Quote of the Month

When love and skill work together, expect a miracle. John Ruskin




Monday, December 17, 2018

Middle Grade Marvels 2018 Plus YA Wonders

In 2018, including today, there are only fifteen more days.  For those days (except today) blog posts will focus on picture books, mostly fiction with two days highlighting nonfiction.  Did I read every new 2018 book I wanted to read?  That would be a resounding no.  I am, however, determined not to put them on my every growing stack of must read books.  I will not abandon them for 2019 publications; at least not yet.

What I would like to do today is showcase those middle grade and young adult books which I read and thoroughly enjoyed for their entertainment and education, even if they are fiction. (I did read other wonderful middle grade books which have already appeared on this blog.)  With each of these books read, I know my view of the world was larger, much better.  These are books which should be in the hands of readers; passed from one to another and to another.

I have loosely placed them in two categories, middle grade and young adult.  There are, of course, readers in upper elementary who can benefit from middle grade titles and middle grade readers old enough to handle the sophistication in young adult volumes.  For each middle grade book, still in my possession, I will include a small book talk and a quote from the title.  Links to publishers' websites will be attached as will those to authors' websites.   Many publishers include excerpts from the books on their sites. Authors will have extra resources on their sites also, sometimes including book trailers and videos.  For the young adult books I will list the pertinent publication information with links.  I have listed the books in order of publication date.

Middle Grade


Betty Before X (Farrar Straus Giroux, January 2, 2018) written by Ilyasah Shabazz with Rene Watson

Do you know who Malcolm X is?  He was a prominent figure in advocating for the rights of African Americans.  For some years he lived in Michigan, in the town of Mason.  (My father who grew up in Mason used to talk about him.)  His wife, Betty, moved to Detroit, Michigan when she was seven years old after the death of her beloved Aunt Fannie Mae.  This book is about four important years of her life between 1945 and 1948.  It is written by her daughter.  An author's note, Detroit in the 1940s, Bethel AME Church, Meet the Characters, Timeline and Acknowledgments provide readers with an excellent background.

This book gives us a clear view of life for African Americans during this time period.  It presents the heartbreak of a child who struggles to be loved for herself.  Above all this book shows readers how people other than your relatives can become your family.  People have a huge capacity for love and supply others with hope.  It shows the power for faith and counting your blessings.

"Not me," I say.  And right then, all the times my Aunt Fannie Mae told me I was her little chocolate drop come to mind and I think about Mother and how she always asks me if I know how beautiful I am.  I tell Suesetta, "I think God made us the way He wanted us to be.  I think maybe we make Him sad when we don't like how He made us, like we're telling Him that what He created was wrong."


The Journey of Little Charlie (Scholastic Press, January 30, 2018) written by Christopher Paul Curtis  

It's August in the year 1858.  Charlie's papa, a sharecropper, has suddenly died in a freak accident when attempting to chop down a tree.  No one believes it is an accident.  First Charlie fears he will be hanged.  Then he finds out his father supposedly made a deal with the local devil, Cap'n Buck. In order to save his life and his mother's life, Charlie heads north with this overseer from South Carolina to Detroit to bring back thieves.  The thing is these people are not thieves, they are runaway slaves.  What's a righteous boy to do when surrounded by pure evil?

Time moves different when something you ain't 'specting to happen goes 'head on and happens anyhow.  I seent where time goes from moving at the reg'lar pace to when it slides 'long on greased locomotive rails.  I also seent where it slows right down, like it's fighting its way through a big invisible jug of molasses.


The Problim Children (Katherine Tegen Books, HarperCollinsPublishers, January 30, 2018) written by Natalie Lloyd

Have any of you heard the nursery rhyme beginning with

Monday's child is fair of face?

Seven children, one born on each day of the week, live in the Swampy Woods.  No one ever sets foot in these woods which makes it ideal for the Problim family.  The current problem with the Problim children is their parents are missing.  They are unaware of their exact location.  No word has been heard from them in seven weeks.

Also the home in which they reside has just been destroyed. Being homeless creates another dilemma.  One of the siblings decides it's time to unearth a treasure given to him by their grandfather.  Inside is a deed to his home, an object similar to a bone and a key.  These items lead the children into the town of Lost Cove and into the adventure of their young lives.  There is a riddle to be resolved; vast fortunes and lives are at stake.  There are wicked villains working against their every move.  Time is not in their favor.  (This is the first book in a series.  The prologue will have you reading this in a single sitting.)

Ichabod, Sal's pet pig, waddled out the front door of the bungalow squealing ork-ork-ork! Riding astride the swine was a toddler wearing a striped onesie and Velcro bow tie.  Wafting around this smallest Problim was his own unique fog . . . of stink.  Toot Problim's farts were so varied and precise that the Problim children had assigned each one a number for categorization purposes.

As the pig bounded toward Sal, Toot bounced on its back, puffing a series of warning farts.  All #4s.

(1 #4 The Stink of Dread: A fart born of anxiety, foretelling a terrible event.  Smells faintly of rotten eggs and vomit.)


The Prince and the Dressmaker (First Second, February 13, 2018) written and illustrated by Jen Wang 

Frances, a dressmaker whose talents are ignored by her employer, draws attention to herself with the design of a dress worn by a woman attending the prince's ball, a ball for eligible young women. (The prince's parents despair of his lack of interest in marriage.) The attention she unwittingly acquires is that of the prince. Lured from the shop with the promise of better pay, she takes up residence at the palace.

She and the prince strike a bargain full of secrets and future hopes.  The truth could ruin both of their lives.  This is an outstanding graphic novel addressing the issues of gender identity, family and friendship.

It doesn't matter!  You're a secret, which means I'm a secret!  Maybe you can spend the rest of your life living like this, but I can't.

What am I supposed to do?? Do you really think if I tell the world I'm Lady Crystallia everyone's just going to cheer for me?


The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond) (Scholastic Press, February 27, 2018) written by Sayantani Dasgupta illustrations by Vivienne To (another great publisher link)

The introductory paragraph completely captivates.

The day my parents got swallowed by a rakkhosh and whisked away to another galactic dimension was a pretty craptastic day.  The fact that it was actually my twelfth birthday made it all that much worse.  Instead of cake or presents or a party, I spent the day kicking demon butt, traveling through time and space looking for my family, and basically saving New Jersey, our entire world, and everything beyond it.  Not that I didn't have help.  But I'm getting ahead of myself.  I'll tell you that part soon.  First, let me back up a little.

As everything she accepts as reality vanishes before her eyes, all the stories Kiranmala assumed were fiction turn out to be true.  She is indeed a princess.  She is indeed from another world.  And there are those who wish her to be dead.


The Mad Wolf's Daughter (Kathy Dawson Books, Penguin Young Readers Group, March 6, 2018) written by Diane Magras

A heart-pounding beginning has Drest, her brothers and father (Grimbol, The Wolf) under attack from enemy soldiers.  Drest in hiding at her father's orders, witnesses the assassination attempt of one knight on another knight.  Injured at the bottom of a ravine, the young knight needs to get to Faintree Castle.  So does Drest.  Her father and brothers are being held there as prisoners with death sentences.

The duo set off in an unlikely alliance.  Guided by the voices of her brothers and father in her thoughts Drest accomplishes the unthinkable.  What she does not know is the real identity of the young knight.  It makes all the difference.

The young knight was shivering, and so was Drest, though the sun was well risen and the fire was high.  She went in search of blankets and returned with her arms full of them.  Soon she had the wounded man fully draped.

"Your brothers have taught you some useful skills, it seems," Emerick murmured.  "I never thought I'd find a creature like you here."
"What did you think you'd find?" Drest folded a blanket under his chin.
"Nothing but bloodthirsty villains."
"How do you know I'm not one?" 


The Night Diary (Penguin Random House, March 6, 2018) written by Veera Hiranandani

Here is the link to an excellent author interview at NPR Weekend Edition Sunday.  Another is posted at Publishers Weekly.


Good Dog (Scholastic Press, March 27, 2018) written by Dan Gemeinhart

Brodie, a dog, finds himself in heaven.  He leaves behind a boy who loved him.  And he loves that boy.  He also remembers the boy is in danger.  Brodie cannot stay in heaven.

In an effort to save his boy, Brodie, now a spirit returns against all advice of those in paradise.  Life as a spirit is full of troubled beings, those who crave his lightness.  To say this book is a page-turner is an understatement.  Once you start you won't be able to stop.  And make sure you have a box of tissues handy.  There is no love better than the love of a dog.

And, standing there, looking at the wondrous glow of his own soul for the first time, Brodie remembered the sound of Aiden laughing.  He remembered it from the time they'd played in the snow, but from other times, too:  an open-mouthed sound, an eye-sparkling sound, a tail-wagging sound.  Laughing.  The sound of a happy heart.  Right then, looking at his own golden fur and glittering cloud of lights, Brodie felt like laughing.  He didn't know how laughter worked, but he knew then what it felt like.

Because a soul?  It's a beautiful thing to have.  And it's a terrible thing to lose.  But Brodie didn't know that yet.


The Parker Inheritance (Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic Inc., March 27, 2018) written by Varian Johnson 

Candice Miller finds herself living in Lambert, South Carolina.  She does not want to be there living with her mother in her deceased grandmother's home.  Her parents have been divorced for six months. (There are secrets around the divorce.)  This is supposed to be a temporary stay with mother and daughter returning to Atlanta.

Abigail Caldwell, her grandmother, has a reputation needing to be cleared.  The reasons have been another secret but a letter Candice discovers in her grandmother's attic lead her on a hunt to clear her grandmother's name and possibly find a treasure.  History, family and love of reading add to the fast pace of this mystery craving to be solved.

The letter would remain a mystery, its secrets hidden for ten more years, until someone came along who was brave enough---or perhaps foolish enough---to take up the challenge again.

"What does that mean?" Candice asked.  She had heard her mother make comments like that throughout the years, even when her grandmother was still alive.  Grandma would always nod and counter with, "Just because you don't see the path doesn't mean it's not there."

Find the path.  Solve the puzzle.


Be Prepared (First Second, April 24, 2018) written and illustrated by Vera Brosgol 

Raise your hand if you've ever experienced summer camp as a living nightmare.  Vera desperately wants to fit in with the other girls in her class but being a Russian makes it difficult with her American friends.  She thinks a summer at camp with only Russians there will solve all her problems but sometimes you really do have to be careful what you wish for.

The dialogue, thoughts and panels in this graphic novel are off-the-charts amazing.  We experience every agonizing (and triumphant) moment with Vera.  People, with all their flaws and goodness, are found everywhere.

(Are you lost?)

No.

(In Russian.)

NYET!!!

(Are you sure you're not lost?)

(Because you're headed straight for the boys' Hollywood.)

Look, it doesn't matter if I never learn to follow a trail.

My mom is coming, and I'm going home, and I never have to see any of these mean kids again.

(They're not all mean kids.  Maybe if you tried talking to someone other than the oldest girls . . . )

NO. I don't need anybody.


Bob (Feiwel And Friends, May 1, 2018) written by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead with illustrations by Nicholas Gannon

Ten-year-old Livy has returned to visit Livy's grandmother in Australia.  It's been five years since her last visit.  She knows she has forgotten something important about her last visit.  She forgot all about Bob.  Now Bob is no ordinary creature and he is wearing a chicken disguise and he has been hiding in a closet for five years.

Livy and Bob need to find Bob's home.  Who Bob is and how he is intrinsically tied to Australia and its stories releases a special magic into the air.  You will be surprised dear readers and you will rejoice in the answers found.

Then I see the closet.  I still don't remember the bed, or the bright pink curtains.  But I remember this closet.  It's small---the door seems like only half a door, and there can't be much room on the other side.

I think I left something inside.  Something really, really important.

My hand reaches for the doorknob.  I expect it to be cold, but it isn't.  I know exactly where the light cord is, and I watch my hand reach out and pull it.  The light flickers on.

Here is what I see:
1.  A high shelf, jammed with shoeboxes and falling-down stacks of old comic books.
2.  Below that, some clothes on hangers are dangling from a bar.  There's a tutu with sequins and a few summer dresses for someone a lot smaller than me.  Maybe Gran is keeping them for Beth Ann in a long, long time.  Right now, she's so small she can barely keep a shirt on.  One shoulder is always falling out of the neck hole.  If I try to fix it, she cries.
3.  On the floor, under the little dresses, a Lego pirate ship sits on the brown carpet.  It has four sails and a mast and a lookout tower and even a swimming pool.  It must have taken a long time to build.
4.  Next to the pirate ship is a thick, old dictionary.
5.  And standing on top of the dictionary is a small zombie wearing a chicken suit.  He's rubbing his eyes, a Lego pirate clutched in one green hand.  When his eyes adjust to the light, he uses them to look me up and down.

Then he says, "You're back.  Took you long enough."


Endling The Last (Harper, HarperCollinsPublisher, May 1, 2018) written by Katherine Applegate 

You know with horrifying certainty you are the last of your species alive.  Everyone you love, everyone you have known your entire life is dead.  Byx is the last of the dairnes.  Dairnes have a gift others fear; that is the cause of their destruction.

Byx is now on a quest to see if a story of others of her kind located in another part of the kingdom of Nedarra is true.  Along the road to answers she gathers a new pack of two other creatures and two humans, a girl and a boy.  They find answers to unexpected questions and dangers they could not have imagined.  This is the first book in what promises to be a stellar series.

Dairnes cannot fly.
We can glide, but we can't defy gravity.  We can only soften it, turning plummeting falls into slow arcs.
I spread my forelegs, exposing my glissaires.  With all four inches of my deadly back claws digging into crumbling stone, I kicked myself away, thrusting toward the boiling clouds.
Arrows sliced through the air like deadly rain.
I caught the wind.
The knife-sharp tip of a Shark's Tooth grazed my tail, just as the blustery wind filled and lifted me.
Panting horses pranced and reared at the cliff's rim.  I saw furious human faces glaring down at me.  Hard, experienced eyes planned trajectories.
An arrow shot past, faster than a diving rapidon.  It flew so near that I could see the color of the feathers, the design painted on the shaft, the trident head.  And the thin filament that would allow me to be hauled back.
A poacher's arrow.


The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl (Penguin Random House, May 1, 2018) written by Stacy McNaulty (I hosted the cover reveal on this blog.)  Be sure to click the more on Lightning Girl tab at Stacy's website.




















Amal Unbound (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House LLC, May 8, 2018) written by Aisha Saeed  

As the eldest daughter in her family Amal's dreams and the life her father believes she should follow do not always align.  There are actions in Amal's culture for which the consequences are nearly unbearable.  Little does she know but a misspoken word to a member of the ruling family in her community leads to those very terrifying consequences, life as an indentured servant away from her family in an unknown home.

To have everything you desire vanish, to have no hope of any future other than a servant, is crushing.  In this new household she also has other problems, others in servitude resent her presence.  Navigating this life is challenging.  Can she endure?  Can she rise above her circumstances?  Will the truth about the Khan family be revealed?

I looked at her and then at the books.  I slipped out a thin collection of poems and short stories.  I ran my hand over the cover.
I didn't expect to have this chance again---to be able to turn pages and learn new things and keep my mind alive.
I couldn't say no.
It was worth the risk to have books in my life again.


Front Desk (Arthur A. Levine Books, Scholastic Inc., May 29, 2018) written by Kelly Yang

Mia Tang is an extraordinary girl in an extraordinary situation.  She and her immigrant Chinese parents live in a motel.  (The owner of the motel, Mr. Yao, is less than honest.)  Mia creates an extended family with the permanent guests of the motel while working at the front desk as her parents clean rooms non-stop day after day.  (They are given a place in the motel to stay plus a certain amount of money per each guest.)

Life has a way of intruding with one challenge after another but the Tang family is determined to make the best of the situation; even if it means helping other immigrants at the peril of losing their own home and employment.  Mia bravely uses her skills at writing to fashion surprises with hopeful results.  It's certain you will be standing up and cheering at the conclusion.

"Stop!" I yelled.
The boys spun around and froze.
One of the sixth graders smirked.
"Look, Chinese dough boy has a girlfriend!" he exclaimed.  My cheeks turned bright red.
"I'm not his girlfriend!" I shot back.  "I'm not even his friend."
Just then, a teacher started walking over.
"Hey, what's going on?" he hollered.
"Shoot!" the sixth graders yelled.  Quickly, they let go of Jason and scrambled out of there.
After the sixth graders ran away, Jason and I walked silently back to class.  I kept looking over at the bruise developing on his arm.  I wanted to ask him if he was okay, but then I thought about all the horrible things he and his dad said the day before, and I didn't. 


Breakout (Bloomsbury Children's Books, June 5, 2018) written by Kate Messner  (You'll enjoy this special article in School Library Journal about the story behind the story.)

Here is the first page of this title.

July 30

Dear Library Board,

Enclosed is my contribution to the Wolf Creek Community Time Capsule Project.  This folder includes my letters as well as public documents and things I've collected from friends and family members, shared with permission.  I labeled everything with Post-its and added notes so you don't get confused.
When I collected this stuff, I didn't know if I'd submit it all, but sometimes you need to hear a lot of points of view to get the whole story.  Journalists have to pay attention to things like that.
Altogether, I think these documents tell a true and honest story of this June, which is what you said you wanted.  You have my permission to include all these things in the time capsule, but you don't have my permission to pick and choose only some of them.  That's the deal.
When you started this project, you probably thought you'd end up with a lot of stories about everybody eating Popsicles and swimming in the creek.  But that's not what you're getting.  Because this summer was different.

Sincerely,
Nora Tucker

There is a prison located in the community of Wolf Creek.  During this summer in June inmates escape.  Through a series of letters, Post-it notes, text messages, signs and bulletin boards in the community, newspaper articles, graphs, comics and poems readers are privy to the entire situation.  We get a variety of personal viewpoints from permanent community members and those residing in the community due to having relatives in the prison.  As each page is turned readers find themselves examining their own beliefs and how they would react in similar circumstances.  Once started you will find yourself reading this in a single sitting.


The Cardboard Kingdom (Alfred A. Knopf, June 5, 2018) written and illustrated by Chad Sell (Here is another author link.)

There is nothing like the possibilities present in the presence of an empty cardboard box or even with a piece of cardboard.  In this graphic novel, a group of neighborhood friends design and create superhero identities from cardboard.  Their neighborhood is transformed into a kingdom.  Readers will meet The Sorceress, the Huntress, the Big Banshee, the Alchemist and the Blacksmith, the Prince, the Animal Queen, the Blob, the Beast, Professor Everything, the Gargoyle, the Mad Scientist, the Robot, and the Bully. (There might be several more.)  In their realm a remarkable summer is spent especially at The Dragon's Head Inn.


Lions & Liars (Farrar Straus Giroux, June 5, 2018) written by Kate Beasley with illustrations by Dan Santat

Frederick is ten years old.  In his friends' theory on life, a food chain idea with lions at the top, Frederick and his pal are fleas on the butts of meerkats.  As if this entire mind set is not bad enough, Frederick arrives home to find that the dream trip the family was going to take is being cancelled due to the impending arrival of a hurricane.  AND if that's still not bad enough in short order Frederick is drifting down a river in a boat without a motor with an alligator as his new best buddy.  (How he arrives in this situation had me laughing out loud.)

Remember the hurricane?  Frederick finally arrives at a camp and pretends to be someone else.  (This is not your typical camp.)  When the hurricane strikes you won't be able to turn the pages fast enough.  Friendships are found where and when you least expect them.

Frederick has never won anything that he could remember.  He'd never been that kind of guy.  That guy who scored goals and won the recess games . . . that guy who got laughs in class and walked through the school like he owned the place.  In fact, Frederick was the opposite of that guy.  He was the one who missed the shot and lost the game for everyone else, the one who got laughed at, the one who walked through the school and stepped in spilled Kool-Aid that dried sticky to the bottom of his shoe so that every time he took a step he had to peel his foot off the floor with an embarrassing sque-e-e-e-lcha.


The Haunted Serpent (Sterling Children's Books, June 5, 2018) written by Dora M. Mitchell

Having moved too many times Spaulding Meriwether has relocated with his author aunt in her hometown.  His notable parents host a popular paranormal television show and are rarely involved in Spaulding's life.  Initially he has high hopes for surviving middle school.

People disappearing from graves (zombies), a ghost next door and an enormous boa constrictor who is said to have eaten said neighbor (now a ghost) haunt Spaulding's life in this new community.  Spaulding and newfound friends (unlikely) try to piece together the clues of these weird happenings.  The action is heart-pounding and the ending is superb.

Even before he saw the dead guy, Spaulding Meriwether was in a bad mood.  His feet were wet, his hands were freezing, and he was all alone in the middle of a dark, foggy forest.

Worst of all, he was feeling like an idiot.  He knew what he was getting into when he came out here.  He'd heard kids at school saying there was strange stuff going on in the woods outside of town, stuff that sounded  to him like it could be part of some kind of creepy ritual.  So what did he do when he heard all this?  Stay far away, like any sensible person?  Oh no, not S. S. Meriwether---he had to go investigate.


Takedown (Wendy Lamb Books, Random House Children's Books, June 19, 2018) written by Laura Shovan (Laura also has a blog.)

When you are the only girl in a family of brothers who are wrestlers, you wrestle.  Not only does Miakayla wrestle, she loves it.  Is it easy being a girl who wrestles?  No, it isn't but Miakayla is not going to allow people who disagree with girls wrestling take away something she enjoys.

When she is partnered with a boy, Lev, who also has his eye on a championship title, the duo discover working together is to both of their advantages.  If you've ever watched a wrestling match, you'll find yourself tied up in knots cheering for both Miakayla and Lev.  This is an outstanding sport's novel which also explores family and friendship.

I jog to the center of the mat and try to ignore what's going on in the Eagles' corner.  The ref is talking to Nick and Coach Spence.
I look at Mom.  If she's noticed something weird is happening, she doesn't show it.  "You've got this!" she shouts.
I try to shake the worry out of my head, but now both coaches and the ref are at the judges' table.  They point to the Eagles' corner, where Nick is standing.  Coach Billy's face is turning bright pink.  After weeks of practice, I know what that means.  He's about to start yelling.


The Game Masters Of Garden Place (Delacorte Press, Random House Children's Books, July 17, 2018) written by Denis Markell

Five friends have been engaged in a role-playing game, Reign of Dragons, every weekend for three years during school.  Now in the sixth grade some of the members of this crew seem to be drifting away.  It's not what Ralph Peter Ginzberg wants.

Through the writing skills of the five the game and its outcome are played each week.  What none of them ever expected happens.  The characters they have invented come to life in their world.  Is the gold die responsible?  Will the Reign of Dragons gathering help them?   The commentary of the characters on things in our world add loads of humor to this adventure.

The entire room seemed to be vibrating.
"Are they doing construction outside?" Cammi suggested.
When they were working on the street, the apartment did often shake.  But this was different.

"What's that?" asked Persephone.

There was a low humming, and the room was definitely shaking.  The air around them shimmered as the lights seemed to grow brighter and brighter.

"What's happening?" yelled Noel, his voice almost drowned out by a sound that replaced the humming.  The new sound was like nothing they'd ever heard, a tearing apart, a blazing combination of cries and roars and rushing air pulling at them, getting louder and louder.


Estranged (Harper, HarperCollinsPublishers, August 7, 2018) written and illustrated by Ethan M. Aldridge (Here is a link to a video about the creation of the artwork.)

Children, one in the upper world of humans and the other from the world of fairy, are switched at birth.  In the human world, Edmund hides his gifts from his parents and sister.  In the world of fairy Childe is thought of as an it, guarded and guided by Whick.  When evil enters into Childe's world, he seeks help from Edmund.

They need to work together to save both worlds.  The story is full of action and fantastical beings at every page turn.  The illustrations will take your breath away.

What about me?  No one helped me.  I've had to figure out how to fit in here on my own.
I'm sorry to hear it, but from what I know . . . family is meant to be there for each other.
I'm not his family.
I think you're the closest thing he has right now.


Nowhere Boy (Roaring Brook Press, August 7, 2018) written by Katherine Marsh (Book trailer link)

Two boys, thirteen-year-old Max, an American and fourteen-year-old Ahmed, a refugee from Syria, are in Brussels, Belgium.  In the flight for safety, Ahmed has lost his last living relative, his father, on their journey.  Max does not want to be in Brussels and is struggling to fit in the school in which his parents have placed him.  Trying to survive on the streets, Ahmed finds himself hiding in the home where Max and his family are staying.

When the boys meet, they go against every sensible thing to do the right thing.  This is a case of the right side of history dictating present day actions.  This book is for now.  This book is a classic speaking timeless truths.


Harbor Me (Nancy Paulsen Books, Penguin Random House LLC, August 28, 2018) written by Jacqueline Woodson (Link to the book trailer)

Asked to go to a separate room for weekly chats, six students talk about themselves and their life circumstances knowing there are no adults to listen.  Six personalities grow and the group becomes bound to each other.  It's not easy for all of them.  They have problems some of us can't even begin to understand.

People come and go out of their lives.  The rise and fall of emotions in this book will become the rise and fall of emotions you will feel for these students.  This is a very powerful title.

Back then, we still all believed in happy endings.
None of us knew yet how many endings and beginnings
one story could have.


Wonderland (Farrar Straus Giroux, September 28, 2018) written by Barbara O'Connor  

Four beings' lives cross each other like the lines in a Venn diagram.  One girl is the daughter of a woman who can't seem to find roots, moving from job to job.  Another girl has a mother full of rules and expectations.  The first girl, Mavis, is now living on the property of Rose, the second girl.  Mavis's mother is Rose's mother's new housekeeper.

Mr. Duffy is the gatekeeper in the neighborhood where Rose lives.  He simply has not been himself since his dog died.  He is one of Rose's best friends.  Henry is a dog who appears on the property behind the homes.  He has run away from an unbearable situation.  In this beautiful tale of family, friendship and love, each individual saves the other.

Then he sat by the wrought-iron fence wishing that the freckled firl would come back and call him Henry again.
He was feeling scared and lonely.
If being Henry would bring the girl back to whisper to him and give him food, then he would be Henry.

That night it rained.  A soft, quiet summer rain that rinsed the leaves and soaked the moss and weighed down the ferns . . .
. . . and filled the plastic bowl with water for Henry.


Dactyl Hill Squad Book One (Arthur A. Levine, Scholastic Inc., September 1, 2018) written by Daniel Jose Older (video with Daniel talking about his book)

Let's step back in time to 1863.  We are in New York City during the Civil War era.  And there are dinosaurs.  You read that right.  There are dinosaurs walking and flying about under the control (usually) of humans.  One of the main characters, Magdalys Roca, one of many orphans at the Colored Orphan Asylum, has a gift in communicating with dinosaurs.  This gift becomes more special when she and her friends find themselves homeless after the Draft Riots.

They flee to Brooklyn to Dactyl Hill, a separate community for black and brown New York residents.  In safety here she and her friends figure out a way to save other orphans kidnapped by the wicked Richard Riker.  A horrible fate awaits them if they cannot be saved.  This is an edge-of-your seat thrilling historical alternate adventure.  It's the first of a new series.

"What's happening?" Little Sabeen moaned.
"It's an attack," Magdalys said.
"Who?" asked Mapper.  "Who's attacking?"
"The draft officers started drawing names out of a tumbler today," Cymbeline said.  "White folks are being conscripted for the war against the slaver states and they don't want to go.  There was word there could be some backlash against black New Yorkers, but this . . ." She shook her head.

That's why the city was so quiet, Magdalys thought.  Like it was holding its breath, waiting for . . . this.  She looked at the carnage around her.  And this was only the beginning.  Riker knew this was going to happen, and he let us walk right into it . . .


Merci Suarez Changes Gears (Candlewick Press, September 11, 2018) written by Meg Medina

When thinking of Merci Suarez one word immediately comes to mind--fierce.  Not fierce in the ferocious sense but determined, a sixth grade girl with a sense of purpose.  School is not as she expected it would be this year, especially when she is assigned to mentor a new student.  Merci is a student at this particular school by working extra hard.  Her family does not have the tuition so both she and her family do work in lieu of the tuition.

Merci has a close-knit and extended family living next-door and near each other.  Here, too, she has responsibilities.  She (and others) are worried about her grandfather and his memory problems.  This is a remarkable middle grade novel.

But I don't know for sure because every time they hear me leave my room, they all get quiet.  Their eyes follow me when I go to the kitchen to see if my soccer permission slip is signed yet.  They don't start talking again until I'm gone.
Children don't need to hear life's ugliness.  There's plenty of time for that.  I've heard Abuela say that before.  She hates when books and movies that Roli and I watch are sad or bloody.  But that's so dumb.  Plenty of sad things happen to kids all the time.  Your dog dies.  Your parents split up.  Your best friend dumps you for someone better.  Someone sends you a mean snap message.
I could go on.


Saving Winslow (Joanna Cotler Books, HarperCollinsPublishers, September 11, 2018) written by Sharon Creech

This entire book reads like a poetic love letter to love.  It's winter with shortened, dark and dreary days.  Gus, the oldest brother, is serving in the military.  The house simply isn't the same but little by little people and things change.

Louie names a newborn donkey his father brings home Winslow.  It's not expected to live hours, let alone days but Louie, with no luck with animals at all, decides this donkey is going to live.  When Louie was born he only weighed three pounds.  Perhaps this is why Louie feels a kinship with this animal.  You are going to want to hug all the characters in this book, Louie, Winslow, Louie's mom and dad, his best friend Mack, the new girls, Nora and Claudine and Uncle Pete. Even cranky Mrs. Tooley will find a place in people's hearts.

The donkey made a small noise that sounded like please.
Louie lifted the donkey from the basket and held it close.  It smelled of wet hay.  It put its face against Louie's neck and made that noise again.
Please.
"Okay," Louie said.  "I accept the mission."
"What mission?"
"To save this pitiful motherless donkey." 


Zora & Me The Cursed Ground (Candlewick Press, September 11, 2018) written by T. R. Simon




(Prior to reading this book, I read the first and companion volume Zora & Me written by Victoria Bond and T. R. Simon, October 12, 2010.  It's an epic murder mystery brimming with twists and turns set in Zora Neale Hurston's home town in Eatonville, Florida.  My copy is loaded with sticky notes marking passages.)(Here is a link to a video with T. R. Simon talking about the books.)

Zora and her best friend, Carrie, and Teddy their male companion are older in this second volume but Zora's thirst for solving mysteries is stronger than ever.  In this book, Carrie is telling the tale. (And we switch from the present to the past, also.)  It's about how history of an area, of a town, is integral to the present.  It's a chilling account of slavery and racism in the South during Zora's youth.

One night, the local mute, Mr. Polk, is found injured by the girls when he and his home are attacked.  A woman most people fear, Old Lady Bronson, appears to take control of the situation and to heal Mr. Polk.  It seems on this night Mr. Polk is no longer mute as he and Miz Bronson speak in a different language.  Once Zora assesses this situation, nothing is going to stop her from getting to the truth.  A bargain is made between Zora and the magical woman.

Zora ran her hand across the moss growing on the north side of what remained of the porch beams.  "Slaves," she said, drawing out the word.  "The word makes the pit of my stomach burn.  Whenever I think of slavery I get angry.  No matter how long I study white folks, I'll never understand how so many of then could sit in big houses like this, owning folks who had no more say in their own lives than a dray horse."
"We're lucky we were born when we were," Teddy said.  "Just forty years ago and we would have been slaves.  Imagine us being us, only slaves."


The Faithful Spy: A True Story! Deitrich Bonhoeffer And The Plot To Kill Hitler (Amulet Books, September 18, 2018) written and illustrated by John Hendrix

This book is a brilliant blend of narrative, images, graphic design and John Hendrix's signature typography.  It does indeed give an account of the life and work of Deitrich Bonhoeffer but his life is bound to the very real resistance to the rise and rule of Adolf Hitler.  It is a captivating history of Germany and her people told with meticulous care, a weaving of facts into a tale of a man of tremendous faith and others around him who are heroes then and now.

What would you do to save your country?

Extensive back matter, an author's note, research and authenticity, acknowledgements, a selected bibliography, notes and an index, are included.

During this time, Dietrich began his role of spying for the Nazis in name, but secretly working against them.  Operating as a double agent, he traveled outside of Germany, talking to churches and ambassadors, covertly trying to gather foreign support for the assassination attempt.  In September 1941, he returned to Germany and saw something new.  All the Jews were forced to wear yellow star badges on their clothes, identifying them as Jews.  Dietrich feared the worst for his Jewish friends and family members (fortunately, his twin sister, Sabine, who married into a Jewish family, had been evacuated to England with her husband and daughters several years before.)


The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge (Candlewick Press, September 25, 2018) written by M. T. Anderson with images by Eugene Yelchin 


This is a a mind-blowing saga of a war between elves and goblins.  In words and a collection of wordless images, readers come to understand perception is everything.  There is a distinctive contrast between the text and the illustrations when an elf historian goes to the goblin kingdom to meet with the historian there.  Readers can't help but leave the reading of this title with a complete comprehension of how history is written (and altered).

Booklist reviewers Cindy and Lynn offer their thoughts in this essay.



The House with Chicken Legs (Scholastic Press, September 25, 2018) written by Sophie Anderson (This is a video about this book.)

You may or may not have heard the tale of Baba Yaga and her home which moves on chicken legs.  There is a fence made of bones and skulls.  She is not treated kindly in most of these stories.  This narrative is completely different.  This story will sing its way into your heart and stay there.

Marinka lives in a house with chicken legs.  She wants a friend, a human friend.  (The house has always done its best to be a playmate but it is, after all, a house.)  This is nearly impossible as they are always on the move, traveling all around the world with no specific timeline.  Marinka lives in this house with her grandmother, a Yaga.  The dead come to their house to be guided to the afterlife.  When an opportunity presents itself to Marinka to have a human friend, she takes it and her world shifts with heartbreaking effects.

Where would you go to save someone you love?

"I want to stay here, Baba," I sob.
"Oh, Marinka." Baba bundles me into a hug that both comforts and suffocates.  The house is in full gallop now, speeding away from Benjamin and any chance of friendship I might have had, any chance of exploring that sparkling town by the lake.  "You know the house has to keep moving so the living don't find The Gate.  It's important."


Small Spaces (G. P Putman's Sons, September 25, 2018) written by Katherine Arden

Having suffered the loss of her beloved mother has left eleven-year-old Ollie with a huge hole in her life.  One day seeking solace she visits a favorite spot, a swimming hole, in the local creek.  A sobbing woman is about to throw a book into the water.  This is something Ollie cannot abide, so she steals it.  The title of the stolen book is Small Spaces.

It chronicles a triangle between two brothers and a woman they both love.  Imagine Ollie's surprise the next day when on a field trip, the owner of the farm is the woman at the creek.  And even eerier is the graves of the people in the book are on this farm.  A frightening bus driver, scarecrows and a pact from the past provide readers with one of the creepiest stories of 2018.

Ollie was still staring out the window.  The yellow autumn trees had turned black and spindly, as though winter had come in the last three minutes.  The broad, smooth country road had become an old, cracked ribbon, running away and vanishing into the trees, still lapped in mist.
Where were they?
Slowly the bus driver stood up.  The shouting died away.  The driver turned around.  He seemed to have gotten both taller and wider.  "Well," said the driver, surveying them, "best get moving.  At nightfall they'll come for the rest of you."
Then he smiled, tongue flicking red against his teeth.


Sweep: The Story Of A Girl And Her Monster (Amulet Books, September 25, 2018) written by Jonathan Auxier (Jonathan talks about his book here.)

Now on her own, after her beloved Sweep vanishes, Nan Sparrow, ends up sweeping for the cruel Wilkie Crudd.  One day, in a deliberately set chimney fire, Nan is stuck and terrified believing her luck has run its course.  She will surely be the victim of the Devil's Nudge.  A good luck charm given to her by Sweep is red hot.  She is burning.  And then she isn't.

Nan wakes up in a new place, an attic.  And she isn't alone.  Sitting with her, still small, but now moving is the char, her good luck charm.  She will call him Charlie.  What evolves is a story of a magical being and the unforgettable life Nan and the golem live.  You will want to read this over and over again.  This is an incredibly beautiful message about the power of friendship and love.

What happened inside that chimney must have changed the char---brought it to life.  All thoughts of thirst and cold and pain left Nan.  All she could think about was this little thing.  It seemed so frightened.  And it was so small.
"Don't be afraid," she whispered.  "I won't hurt you."  She ran her thumb gently along the side.  She didn't know why.
The thing became still.  It settled into her palm.  Again she noticed the two divots etched into its face---dark as a shadow's shadow.  They looked so much like eyes.

Nan stared at the thing.  The thing stared back.  Its warmth radiated up her arms and through her whole body.  She did not question whether the Sweep had meant for this to happen.  She knew at once that this little creature was not a mistake.
Her vision blurred with tears, and she blinked.  "Hello, little thing," she whispered.  "I've waited so long to meet you."
The thing blinked back.


Into The Jungle Stories for Mowgli (Walker Books US, October 2, 2018) written by Katherine Rundell with illustrations by Kristjana S. Williams




As the five stories in this spectacularly illustrated volume of 233 pages are read, it is impossible not to see their real magic as a read aloud.  These stories need to be shared.  The wisdom in each tale is astounding; all prequels to the Rudyard Kipling stories.

The stories are titled Before Mother Wolf Was a Mother, She Was a Fighter, Bagheera's Cage, Baloo's Courage, Kaa's Dance and Mowgli.  At Mowgli's request the first four stories unfold.  In the final story Mowgli's life hangs in a tenuous, tension-filled balance.  Each story ties to the next flawlessly.  It's guaranteed your listeners won't want you to stop after one story.  They will want to hear them all.

From Baloo's Courage

"That night in the jungle an extraordinary noise went forth.  The jerboas ran through the undergrowth, giving forth the call of the rats, of the mice.  The rats called for the squirrels; the mice called out for the voles.  The whole jungle rang with a wild squeaking.
But it seemed to Baloo as he lay listening that the loudest noise of all, as he lay curled in a corner of the cave, was the beating of his own terrified heart.


Louisiana's Way Home (Candlewick Press, October 2, 2018) written by Kate DiCamillo

Readers met Louisiana Elefante in Kate DiCamillo's Raymie Nightingale.  It is a rare thing for a character in one book to speak and request a continuation of their story but that is exactly what Louisiana did.  In this book in the wee hours of the morning, Louisiana's grandmother wakes her up.  They have to leave Florida now.  The curse is about to collect its due.  Leaving everything behind without a word to her friends is devastating to Louisiana; how can she even breathe without Raymie and Beverly.

Their road trip comes to a resounding halt in the state of Georgia; Richmond, Georgia to be exact.  Not only is Granny in a world of hurt but what she tells Louisiana Elefante leaves the girl like a ship without a rudder in a storm.  Can a cast of quirky characters, full of compassion, mend this girl's broken heart?

You have to make small plans.
That is one of the things I have discovered in this world.  It is pointless to make big plans because you never know when someone is going to wake you up in the middle of the night and say, "The day of reckoning has arrived."
Days of reckoning interfere with big plans.
So I made small plans.  The small plans were: Keep the car on the road.  Find a dentist.  Never forgive Granny.


The Season Of Styx Malone (Wendy Lamb Books, Random House Children's Books, October 16, 2018) written by Kekla Magoon

This summer is going to be no ordinary summer for brothers Caleb and Bobby Gene Franklin.  The arrival of sixteen-year-old Styx Malone in their neck of the woods challenges everything the boys have been taught.  It all begins with a bag of fireworks (currently in the possession of Cory Cormier) and a trade made.  Giving away your little sister is easier than the Franklin boys thought.

What happens next is punishment for all three of the boys involved in the trade except the parents don't know about the fireworks.  It is a HUGE secret.  Styx Malone enters.  This guy knows how to get rid of the fireworks and make all kinds of trades to get this new trio precisely what they want.  A bounty of boundaries are broken.  Is this book funny? Yes.  Is this book heartbreaking?  Yes.  Is it full of hope?  You'll have to read it.

Styx Malone didn't believe in miracles but he was one.  Until he came along, there was nothing very special about life in Sutton, Indiana.
Styx came to us like magic---the really, really powerful kind.  There was no grand puff of smoke or anything, but he appeared as if from nowhere, right in our very own woods.
Maybe we summoned him, like a superhero responding to a beacon in the night.



Young Adult


Mary's Monster: Love, Madness, and How Mary Shelley Created FRANKENSTEIN (Roaring Brook Press, January 30, 2018) written and illustrated by Lita Judge  















Children Of Blood And Bone (Henry Holt And Company, March 6, 2018) written by Tomi Adeyemi
















The Poet X (Harper Teen, HarperCollinsPublishers, March 6, 2018) written by Elizabeth Acevedo
















I Am Still Alive A Novel (Penguin Random House, July 24, 2018) written by Kate Alice Marshall  
















Hearts Unbroken (Candlewick Press, October 9, 2018) written by Cynthia Leitich Smith (a second publisher link)

















Hey, Kiddo How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt with Family Addiction (Graphix, Scholastic, October 9, 2018) written and illustrated by Jarrett J. Krosoczka




 


Friday, December 14, 2018

It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like . . #5

Sometimes we need to explore and discover (or rediscover) the true spirit of Christmas.  This is the commemoration of the birth of a child who became a man asking us, again and again, to love one another.  It is about giving with no thought of receiving. 


One children's literature character who continually shines as a beacon of friendship is Little Elliot.  In each of their stories, Little Elliot, Big City, Little Elliot, Big Family, Little Elliot, Big Fun and Little Elliot, Fall Friends, this white elephant with blue and pink polka-dots and his friend, Mouse, with one notched ear, spread goodwill consistently. Merry Christmas, Little Elliot (Godwin Books, Henry Holt and Company, September 11, 2018) written and illustrated by Mike Curato is about a search for a seasonal feeling.  Sometimes it's already within us but it takes the winds of fate to set it free.

Little Elliot was not excited
about Christmas.

"Let's go see Santa," said Mouse. 

As they waited in line to see the jolly old elf, Elliot knew what he wanted.  When he asked Santa about receiving the Christmas spirit, Santa replied it was not his to give.  Elliot needed to find it himself.

He and Mouse decided to look for it.  It was not at a classic Christmas ballet presentation, at the city center showcasing an enormous decorated tree, or at the park's sledding hill.  When the duo stopped for a hot chocolate break, Elliot told Mouse he could not find the Christmas spirit.

Suddenly a gust of wind delivered a bright red envelope right into Elliot's face.  It was addressed to Santa at the North Pole.  When Elliot and Mouse arrived back at the department store it was closed and St. Nick was gone.  This was indeed a dilemma. 

After deciding to read the letter, Elliot wondered how he could help make this request a reality.  In a few moments he had a plan. He and Mouse took a trip driving hours at night.  At their destination a greeting of great joy announced their presence.  A gift is given and received.


When Mike Curato begins with our pachyderm pal having a problem, we are ready to read and listen.  We, like Elliot's friend Mouse, want to help.  Through a concise, deliberate combination of narrative and conversations the story unfolds with marvelous pacing and pleasing surprises. Here is a passage.

"How do I find the 
Christmas spirit?" asked Elliot.

"I don't know," said Mouse, "but I will help you look!"


It is said not to judge a book by its cover but looking at this opened dust jacket is going to send everyone's holiday spirit into high gear.  There is much to love about the merriment seen on the face of Elliot.  Look at Mouse riding in his Santa's hat!  The sack full of Christmas goodies on the back of the sled and the small ribboned wreath on the front add to the overall happiness.  The bright red canvas with the elegant green ribbon script and child-like writing is pure perfection. 

On the spine Christmas lights bookend the title text.  To the left, on the back, Little Elliot and Mouse are calling out a greeting as Elliot holds the letter.  The characters and text are varnished.  The book case is also red with darker outlines to distinguish the portions of an envelope.  On the front is the return address of the sender which is a delightful play on words.  On the back we can see it's addressed to Santa.  The stamp is a one cent stamp in green featuring a historic United States figure.

Mike Curato uses his opening and closing endpapers to wordlessly begin and conclude the story.  On the former a girl bundled in winter clothing is carrying the red envelope in one hand and opening the rural mailbox in her right hand.  With a page turn on the verso and title pages a single image shows a gust of wind carrying the letter away.  It swirls through white title text on darkened blue and purple sky among snowflakes.  Standing by the mailbox the child has her hands outstretched in probable dismay. 

Through a series of utterly charming double-page and full page, with and without borders, illustrations, rendered with pencil on paper and digital color in Adobe Photoshop, Mike Curato lifts and enhances his text.  Many of the pictures are wordless but as with all beautifully created images, they speak volumes.  In all the scenes Mike's use of light and shadow is wonderful!

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is when Elliot and Mouse are leaving the city (New York City of a bygone era).  They are riding in a large yellow car.  Elliot is leaning out the rear window having donned the Santa cap borrowed from the Macy's snowman.  He is grinning with glee.  Mouse is carefully peering out the front window, hanging on to the edge.  His tail and ears are perked up.  Behind the car and through the car windows lighted windows in buildings and Christmas lights shine.  It's as if Elliot and Mouse are going to drive right into our space; they are that close to us.


It simply wouldn't be a complete collection of Christmas titles without a copy of Merry Christmas, Little Elliot written and illustrated by Mike Curato.  Exquisite care has been taken with the entire creation of every portion of this book.  It's guaranteed you will smile and sigh when you view the closing endpapers.  I highly recommend this title.  Giving is the spirit of Christmas which lasts forever.

To learn more about Mike Curato and his other work, please follow the links attached to his name to access his website and blog.  On his website he has a link to activities for this title. On his blog he talks about the making of this book and the Easter eggs hidden in his illustrations.  At Mike's website and the publisher's website you can view interior images.  Little Elliot has a website dedicated to all things Little Elliot.  Mike Curato has an account on Twitter and Instagram.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

Equine Excellence

Their domestication is inherently tied to human history.  With their presence in our way of life, everything moved faster and more efficiently.  There are still places on this planet where transportation by horse is the quickest method of travel. (On Mackinac Island in the state of Michigan the only way to move from place to place is by walking, bicycling or by horse-drawn carriage.)

Several years ago, a master illustrator, a paper engineer, acquired a parcel of land with an old barn.  It was previously home to ten horses that lived on this property in New York's Hudson Valley.  Today with the help of a crowd funding campaign it is now the 10 Horse Art CenterTen Horse Farm (Candlewick Press, April 10, 2018) written and illustrated with breathtaking paper engineering by Robert Sabuda is a remarkable tribute to this farm and the marvelous animals who lived there.

Racing

Single words, with the exception of the final text, describe the actions of a different horse or horses in ten dazzling displays. In the first a brown horse is galloping from left to right, tail and legs extended past the boundaries of the book.  A dog races alongside the horse, tongue hanging out in total bliss.  Next, head bowed and resting, a second cream-colored horse quietly watches playful kittens in a field of flowers.

A rooster takes flight as a dark horse soars over a set of bars and off the top of the illustration.  A wind mill seems to spin high above a horse nearly blending in with rows of wheat.  Is that a goat playing tug-of-war with a horse?  Whoever washed those clothes is in for a surprise.

A tiny mouse cautiously watches a gray horse kick its legs skyward.  The entire animal is off the top of the page except for the front legs.  Two horses with markings like large spots of paint nibble on apples in communal contentment.  On the final visual Ten Horse Farm rises above the page framed by trees.  All ten horses are featured and tucked into the pastoral scene.  You'll need to turn the book to seek and find them all.


By employing the technique of a single word for each image, Robert Sabuda accomplishes several things.  He introduces and defines nine verbs for readers.  He also allows his spectacular pop-up paper engineering to extend the meaning of those words through the actions of his horses.


Whether this is your first Robert Sabuda book or your tenth-plus title, as soon as you look at the front and back of the book case, you know you are holding something extraordinary.  Notice the color of the spine and the rope detail.  On the back the picture for the word Pulling is highlighted.  We receive an invitation to notice the different horses and other animals on the farm.

Full-color resonates from every page turn.  The majesty and movement of the horses draws our attention immediately.  Presenting us with other farm creatures in some of the scenes, Robert Sabuda provides us with fun, humor and the beauty of the landscape around the farm.

One of my many, many favorite illustrations is for pulling.  In this scene a horse, a Clydesdale, is pulling a farm wagon down a portion of two pathways edged with stones.  The horse is prancing at the top of the page on the right.  To the left the wagon, with wheels looking as if they are spinning, is full of all the farm animals we have seen. The rooster is crowing on the back with the mouse sitting near him.  Kittens are lounging on crates behind the goat.  The duck is attempting to fly away.  At the front the dog seems to be calling out to the horse.


Each time you turn a page and view the pop-up pictures in Ten Horse Farm written and illustrated by Robert Sabuda, you are astounded at the meticulous artwork.  Each image opens and closes with ease.  These three-dimensional masterpieces are certain to inform and entertain readers of all ages.  This title is a must have for your personal and professional book collections, especially for readers who appreciate and love horses.  (With care this volume will last multiple readings.)  This book would be wonderful paired with Tony, An Otis Christmas, If A Horse Had Words, and for older readers, Some Kind of Courage.

To learn more about Robert Sabuda and his other beautiful work, please follow the link attached to his name to access his website.  At the publisher's website you can view an interior image.  I know you will enjoy this book trailer.