Recent Reads & Purchases (10/18/17)

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll know that I do a lot of reading and a lot of book-buying (probably more of the latter than I really should . . . ). Here, on my blog, I’ve decided to do a semi-regular roundup of the books I’ve recently read and the ones I recently went out and bought — and, therefore, am now eagerly looking forward to reading soon.

Any book you see here, below, or on any other such similar future post, is one that I wholeheartedly recommend YOU also get your hands on and read. Those I’ve already read I’ve included my reviews of, some bite-sized and some more extensive, and those I haven’t yet gotten a chance to read have been so strongly endorsed by trusted friends that I feel confident including them here and pushing them on YOU.

Happy reading!

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Recent Reads

MICE SKATING, written by Annie Silvestro, illustrated by Teagan White

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A charming ode to wintertime and friendship, replete with cheesy puns and warm, beautifully textured illustrations. A perfect package of a picture book.

I HAVE A BALLOON, written by Ariel Bernstein, illustrated by Scott Magoon

balloon

A silly, fun, and ultimately very sly picture book, charmingly illustrated and cleverly designed, that will get young readers giggling and most likely — despite the book’s protestations that it’s NOT being about sharing — thinking about and discussing exactly that.

SVEN CARTER & THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT, by Rob Vlock

sven

Rob Vlock is a madman. Fortunately for us all, he’s decided to channel his madness into writing novels. SVEN CARTER & THE TRASHMOUTH EFFECT is a 365 page thrill ride, and the action only ever stops for moments of laugh-out-loud hilarity. As if that weren’t good enough, the narrative voice is spot-on, the characters pop off the page, the dialogue is smart and snappy, and the plot is endlessly inventive. Readers — young or old, reluctant or eager — will be beyond entertained by Sven and the zany chaos that surrounds him, and by the book’s end, will most likely find themselves desperate for the next installment.

LOU LOU & PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY, by Jill Diamond, pictures by Lesley Vamos

lou lou and pea

This book is simply marvelous, and one of the most exciting and promising series’ openers I’ve read in a long, long while. The story is set in the El Corazon neighborhood of San Francisco’s Mission district, and Diamond describes the place so lushly and lovingly that you will more than once put the book down and seriously consider packing your bags and moving there IMMEDIATELY. Better yet, the neighborhood is populated by a tremendous cast of delightfully unique characters, many of them eccentric but all of them multi-dimensional and complex. The story’s two stars, Lou Lou and Pea, are the best of all. They are two of the more vivid protagonists you’ll meet in books aimed at readers of this age, and the love they feel for each other, the warmth they feel toward their neighborhood and its inhabitants, and the creativity with which they approach every day is absolutely infectious. If Diamond doesn’t get you packing up and moving to San Francisco, she’ll at least get you itching to get your hands dirty, do some gardening or some arts and crafts.

All of this is enough to make this book a treasure, and I could’ve happily read a plot-less story following Lou Lou and Pea. But LOU LOU & PEA AND THE MURAL MYSTERY is far from plotless. There is a twisty-turny, clever mystery sitting at the center of it, and Diamond masterfully drops clues and ratchets up the tension until you’re torn between wanting to linger with the lovely characters and relish the lively prose and wanting to hurry through the pages to get to the big reveal.

As if all this wasn’t enough, the book features the gorgeous, animated illustrations of Lesley Vamos, each of which provides exactly the right amount of visual information to bring you more fully into El Corazon without getting in the way of your own imagination.

The series’ second installment — LOU LOU & PEA AND THE BICENTENNIAL BONANZA — comes out April, 2018. That’s more than six months away, but I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. Here’s hoping it arrives first thing in the morning so I don’t have to wait a second longer than I have to in order to spend more time with Lou Lou and Pea.

Recent Purchases

Every one of the books below I’ve bought thanks to the MGBooktober hashtag. Don’t know about it? #MGBooktober is a month-long Twitter-based celebration of Middle Grade literature, created, organized, and launched by the brilliant Annaliese Avery. Every day there is a book-related question, and readers are encouraged to tweet out their answers (using the hashtag, of course) and then interact with one another to discuss their choices. It has been a huge success, and Annaliese has kindly asked me to serve as her assistant for the rest of the month, and to help in future MG-themed fun — including #MGBookBattle, which will take place throughout November, and will be a chance for readers to vote from among the 64 most-loved #MGBooktober books and, in the end, celebrate their MOST beloved one.

Beneath each one of my recent purchases, I’ve posted the jacket-flap write-up so you can learn what it’s about. Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to my blog in order to read the reviews I’ll eventually write for every one of them. And if you ARE on Twitter and happen to be a fan of Middle Grade literature — and if you’re reading this post, I have to assume that you are — come join in on the #MGBooktober and #MGBookBattle fun!

BEETLE BOY, by M.G. Leonard

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Darkus Cuttle’s dad mysteriously goes missing from his job as Director of Science at the Natural History Museum. Vanished without a trace! From a locked room! So Darkus moves in with his eccentric Uncle Max and next door to Humphrey and Pickering, two lunatic cousins with an enormous beetle infestation. Darkus soon discovers that the beetles are anything but ordinary. They’re an amazing, intelligent, super species and they’re in danger of being exterminated. It’s up to Darkus and his friends to save the beetles. But they’re up against an even more terrifying villain — mad scientist of fashion, haute couture villainess Lucretia Cutter. Lucretia has an alarming interest in insects and dastardly plans for the bugs. She won’t let anyone or anything stop her, including Darkus’s dad, who she has locked up in her dungeons! The beetles and kids join forces to rescue Mr. Cuttle and thwart Lucretia.

MOLD AND THE POISON PLOT, by Lorraine Gregory

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He’s got a big heart . . . and a nose to match!

Mold’s a bit of a freak. His nose is as big as his body is puny and his mother abandoned him in a bin when he was a mere baby. Who else but the old healer, Aggy, would have taken him in and raised him as her own? But when Aggy is accused of poisoning the King, Mold sets out to clear her name.

In a thrilling race against time to save Aggy from the hangman’s noose, Mold faces hideous, deadly monsters like the Yurg and the Purple Narlo Frog. He finds true friendship in the most unusual – and smelly – of places and must pit his wits and his clever nose against the evil witch Hexaba.

This is an exciting fantasy story with an array of wonderful characters, including the inimitable Mold, told in a fresh and distinctive voice by a promising new writer.

ALEX SPARROW AND THE REALLY BIG STINK, by Jennifer Killick

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Alex Sparrow is a super-agent in training. He is also a human lie-detector. Working with Jess – who can communicate with animals – they must find out why their friends, and enemies, are all changing into polite and well-behaved pupils. And exactly who is behind it all. ALEX SPARROW is a funny, mid-grade novel full of farts, jokes and superhero references. Oh, and a rather clever goldfish called Bob. In a world where kids’ flaws and peculiarities are being erased out of existence, Alex and Jess must rely on what makes them different to save the day.

THE SINISTER SWEETNESS OF SPLENDID ACADEMY, Nikki Loftin

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Lorelei is bowled over by Splendid Academy—Principal Trapp encourages the students to run in the hallways, the classrooms are stocked with candy dishes, and the cafeteria serves lavish meals featuring all Lorelei’s favorite foods. But the more time she spends at school, the more suspicious she becomes. Why are her classmates growing so chubby? And why do the teachers seem so sinister?

It’s up to Lorelei and her new friend Andrew to figure out what secret this supposedly splendid school is hiding. What they discover chills their bones—and might even pick them clean!

Mix one part magic, one part mystery, and just a dash of Grimm, and you’ve got the recipe for a cozy-creepy read that kids will gobble up like candy.

THE GIGGLER TREATMENT, by Roddy Doyle, illustrations by Brian Ajhar

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A talking dog, the Mack children, and the small elf-like Gigglers themselves must try to stop the prank that the Gigglers have mistakenly set in motion to punish Mr. Mack for being mean to his children.

Books to Look Out For (October/November)

LOOK OUT!

If you thought this past month was an exceptional month for books (it was!), you’re in for a treat — this upcoming month is jam-packed with just as many amazing new releases. Below are a handful of the books coming out in the next few weeks that I’m most excited about. I STRONGLY suggest you don’t miss out on a single one!

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Books to Look Out For: October 17, 2017 — November 15, 2017

OPEN IF YOU DARE, by Dana Middleton — October 17, 2017

open if you dare

What it’s about:

Like Birdie Adams didn’t have enough problems this summer. But Birdie’s Birdie. And if a long-buried box has “Open if you dare” written on its lid, then Birdie and her best friends, Ally and Rose, are going to open it.

And now, along with everything else that’s going on―Ally’s pitching slump, Rose’s banishment to Britain, and Birdie’s annoying younger sister being, you know, annoying―the best friends are caught up in solving a mystery planted by a dead girl forty years ago.

What people are saying:

“The author of The Infinity Year of Avalon Jones (2016), Middleton sets the story in Atlanta and peoples it with well-drawn individuals from different generations. Birdie makes mistakes and, as narrator, lets readers in on her thoughts as events, others’ comments, and personal reflection gradually shift her perspective. Each element of the story resonates more fully through Middleton’s strong portrayal of the girls’ intricately interwoven friendship. A rewarding chapter book” — Booklist Online

Why I want to read it:

I guess I’m a bit like Birdie and Ally and Rose, because if you write “OPEN IF YOU DARE” on something — especially a book — well, I’m going to have to open it. I’m also a giant fan of mysteries. And “a mystery planted by a dead girl forty years ago?” Are you kidding?! Count me in!

Visit Dana here to learn more about her and her books.

SAM & EVA, written and illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi — October 17, 2017

sam and eva

What it’s about:

Harold and the Purple Crayon meets Tom and Jerry in this sweet and funny picture book about a boy and girl who must balance their creativity and figure out how to cooperate after their drawings come to life.

When Sam starts drawing a super cool velociraptor, Eva decides to join in. But Sam isn’t too happy about the collaboration. Soon Eva and Sam are locked in an epic creative clash, bringing to life everything from superhero marmots to exploding confetti. But when their masterpieces turn to mayhem will Sam stay stubbornly solo or will he realize that sometimes the best work comes from teamwork?

What people are saying:

“The kids themselves, rendered in black and white, sparkle….When their mural becomes frantic and out of hand, the kids escape in a way that Crockett Johnson’s Harold would be proud of. Expressive, high-spirited one-upkidship via artwork on walls—there’s nothing wrong with that.” — Kirkus Reviews

“Ohi celebrates creativity and cooperation in this story of two young artists, Sam and Eva, who don’t see eye to eye…and although the final pages tease another potential argument, readers will finish the book confident that these two will work through their creative differences once again.” — Publisher’s Weekly

Why I want to read it:

Debbie is simply incredible — ALL her work is great. This book, though, promises to be extra special. I am a huge fan of meta picture books (I’ve written about them on this blog several times!), and I know this one about creative kids and cooperation/collaboration will be an essential addition to my collection.

Visit Debbie here to learn more about her and her books.

THE WITCH BOY, written, drawn, lettered, and colored by Molly Knox Ostertag — October 31, 2017

the witch boy

What it’s about:

In thirteen-year-old Aster’s family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn’t shifted . . . and he’s still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be.

When a mysterious danger threatens the other boys, Aster knows he can help — as a witch. It will take the encouragement of a new friend, the non-magical and non-conforming Charlie, to convince Aster to try practicing his skills. And it will require even more courage to save his family . . . and be truly himself.

Why I want to read it:

A rule-bound family and a boy whose interests won’t allow him to neatly fit in — as far as I’m concerned, there can’t be enough books like this written for kids (and their teachers and parents!). Add in shapeshifting and witchery and Molly’s smart, evocative art — and then go and publish the thing on Halloween — and you’ve got a winning package if there ever was one. The Witch Boy is the first graphic novel Molly has both drawn and written. I know I’m not the only one hoping it’s the first of many.

Visit Molly here to learn more about her and her books.

THIS IS NOT A NORMAL ANIMAL BOOK, written by Julie Segal-Walters, illustrated by Brian Biggs — October 31, 2017

this is not an animal book

What it’s about:

This is a book about animals.
It is? I mean, it sort of is. It does have animals in it.
It’s a book about animals.
I hear you, but you have to admit it’s pretty strange. This is NOT a normal animal book.
You should read it.
At least we can agree on that.

This offbeat picture book is a hilarious behind the scenes look at the picture book creation process. It shows the importance of collaboration and compromise, and highlights the beauty of both words and art. Plus, it really gets you thinking about…BLOBFISH.

What people are saying:

“A knowing and very funny behind-the-scenes look at the art — and negotiation — of collaboration.” — Publishers Weekly

“Has much to incite both giggles and insight into the creative process.” — Booklist

Why I want to read it:

I love animal books, and as I’ve already mentioned, I also love meta picture books, so for me this is a big no-brainer. It’s also yet another picture book about the creative process that takes on themes of cooperation/collaboration — a natural pairing with SAM & EVA. Even better, both books are yellow (my favorite color)! They are going to look GREAT on my shelf.

Visit Julie here to learn more about her and her books. Visit Brian here to learn more about him and his books.

CATSTRONAUTS: SPACE STATION SITUATION, written and illustrated by Drew Brockington — October 31, 2017

catstronauts

What it’s about:

In the third book in the CatStronauts graphic novel series, your favorite elite team of cat astronauts is a member short–one of the team has quit!

When chief science officer Pom Pom rejoins the CatStronauts on the International Space Station, she has to get to work right away–the Hubba Bubba Telescope isn’t working, and CATSUP is losing funding by the day!

But as the CatStronauts and Mission Control race to find answers, the unthinkable happens and pilot Waffles is forced to orbit the Earth in nothing but his space suit. Even though he’s no scaredy cat, Waffles has a hard time staying out in space. When disaster on a global scale rears its head, will a fractured CatStronauts team be enough to save the day?

In this full color graphic novel, debut author/illustrator Drew Brockington takes the CatStronauts to the brink, adding in mounds of jokes, charm, asteroid showers, and enough tuna for everyone!

What people are saying:

“With its appealing blend of cuteness, substance, and humor, this should have readers over the moon. ” — Kirkus Reviews

“Brockington’s off-the-wall kitty sci-fi series packs the full-color panels with cute cats, space travel, and comical high jinks… sure to elicit lots of giggles among middlegrade comics fans.” — Booklist

“The engagingly lighthearted drama and positive resolutions, and the expressive characters, who are as adorable as they are adventurous, provide… fun purchases that will do well on their own or paired with heavier nonfiction titles on history or the environment.” — School Library Journal

“Humor and suspense compete throughout… In playful, mock-heroic, full-color cartoons, Brockington mines space theater for everything…. Even the chapter headings get in on the fun.” — Publishers Weekly

“There’s lots of enthusiasm for graphic novels for this age range, and the CatStronauts deserve a spot.” — BCCB

Why I want to read it:

If you haven’t been keeping up with the CatStronauts, do yourself a favor and CATCH UP. The series is about cats — in space! What else do you need to know?! This third volume promises to be just as excellent as the first two.

Visit Drew here to learn more about him and his books.

DANIEL COLDSTAR #1: THE RELIC WAR, by Stel Pavlou — November 7, 2017

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What it’s about:

Below the surface on a forgotten planet, Daniel Coldstar searches for relics from a lost civilization. Daniel has no memory of his past. All he knows is to do his job and fear the masters of the mines.

Until he unearths a relic more powerful than anything he has ever seen. A relic that might help him escape…

What follows is an epic outer space adventure filled with Truth Seekers, anatoms, Leechers, and the evil Sinja who seek to control the universe.

All that stands in their way is a boy named Daniel Coldstar, whose journey will change the galaxy forever.

What people are saying:

“[An] action-packed journey [with] interesting themes on truth, power, and wisdom…[A] zany outer space adventure. Sure to be a hit for sci-fi readers who love a wild romp.” — School Library Journal

“Outrageously creative.” — Kirkus Reviews

“A breathless adventure full of surprise twists, daring escapes, awesome tech, and sinister conspiracies!” — Joel Ross, author of Beast & Crown

“Sci-fi has never been so much fun. I loved it!” — Eoin Colfer, bestselling author of Artemis Fowl

Why I want to read it:

Stel has been penning sci-fi and speculative fiction stories for years now, but Daniel Coldstar marks his first foray into kid lit, and I hope he sticks around for a good long while. The novel sounds like a rip-roaring, action-packed blast. And of course it doesn’t hurt that he’s already got two of the best, Joel Ross and Eoin Colfer, on his side. With praise like that from them, this book can’t not be good.

Visit Stel here to learn more about him and his books.

VOICES FOR ALL, by Scott Vincent — November 15, 2017

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What it’s about:

12-year old Stacey discovers the secret to communicating with animals. Animals rejoice, thinking she is their long awaited savior who can return them to a world where animals and humans once lived as equals. But not everyone loves a savior. A small clan of cats has kept this secret hidden from humans for generations, ensuring that dogs and cats remain humans’ favorite companions. They are determined to destroy Stacey and keep her discovery a secret. Stacey must find and overthrow them before they silence her forever.

Voices for All is an adventure comedy about friendship, freedom and equality, no matter what your species. Join Stacey, her friend Alex, a wise-cracking gorilla, and a cast of animals yearning to be free as they fight for a world where animals are not as voiceless as we once thought.

Why I want to read it:

Kid lit is full of stories with animal protagonists, and to my mind, that’s a wonderful thing. Animal stories done right can often be more powerful than stories featuring only humans. Voices for All promises to be a worthy addition to this tradition.

Visit Scott here to learn more about him and his books.

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Are you looking forward to a book this month that I haven’t mentioned? Let me know! That way, I can start looking forward to it, too!

ENGINERDS cover art is here!

I’m beyond thrilled to finally share the cover art for ENGINERDS! This first book in the series hits shelves Fall of 2017, with sequels to follow.

If you’ve always wondered what might happen if a horde of comestible-obsessed, dangerously flatulent robots was unleashed on your town, THIS is the book for you.

Follow the blog to keep up-to-date on all ENGINERDS-related info.

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BOBBY THE BRAVE (SOMETIMES), by Lisa Yee (Illustrated by Dan Santat)

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When BOBBY VS. GIRLS (ACCIDENTALLY), the first book in the Bobby series, came out, reviewers praised Lisa Yee for creating such a diverse cast of character and, importantly, not making a big deal about it. Kids’ books which feature and are explicitly about race and diversity are needed, of course, but so are those that don’t have these issues as their main, or sole, focus.

These sorts of books contribute to the “normalizing” of children’s literature, something I’ve posted about here before. But it would be a shame to write about the Bobby novels and talk only about this aspect of them, because the books are exceptionally well-written (and well-illustrated to boot).

One thing I especially like about the Bobby books is Yee’s treatment of skateboarding. I grew up skateboarding, for years and years doing it pretty much constantly, and I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about it (you can read about some of them here). And so it always drives me a little crazy when a kid lit character is made a skateboarder in a clumsy sort of way, and for some reason – possibly a misunderstanding on the authors’ part of what skateboarding means to kids – loads of kid lit characters are thoughtlessly outfitted with skateboards and a handful of (inevitably misused) skateboarding terminology.

I’m not sure why so many authors fail to do the necessary research when it comes to skateboarding. And yes, I know that I am perhaps uniquely sensitive to this problem. But think of a novel that features some other activity, say football or ballet, and then imagine coming across a phrase such as “he kicked a touchdown” or “she did a super awesome really hard spin move.” It’d grate against your ears. It’d pull you out of the story, the same as it would any other reader even vaguely acquainted with football or ballet. And if kid lit authors are so sure that skateboarding is a big deal with today’s kids (and if they weren’t sure, why would it turn up in so many books?), then they ought to put in a little more effort to get it right.

For these reasons, I’m always extra appreciative and excited when an author does put in that extra effort. And after reading her books, it’s clear that Lisa Yee did her homework. At the very least, she considered what skateboarding might mean to kids – and, in this case, to her character Bobby. But I’d be willing to bet that she did more, reading up on it or talking to a young skater in her life.

There’s one moment in BOBBY THE BRAVE (SOMETIMES) that made this much clear to me. It comes during a low moment for Bobby, when he’s feeling particularly worried that he, unable to throw or catch a football to save his life, will never make his ex-NFL star father proud. To take his mind off all of this, Bobby goes skating, and after he does a few quick tricks, we read this:

There was something liberating about skating. Planting your feet on the deck and the feeling of the sidewalk beneath you. The freedom of flight when you got air, and the hard solid landings when you ollied just right. Getting speed and then cruising. With skating, it was just Bobby and his board. No teams. No teacher. No rules.

That right there is the essence of skateboarding, the aspect of the activity that has, for decades now, gotten so many kids so passionately hooked. It can be done with friends, of course – and is often most fun that way – but it is, at base, an individualistic endeavor. The self-reliance it requires, the diligence it demands, and the way it morphs something as ordinary-seeming as a street corner into a blank canvas – this is what kids find so addictive. It speaks to a part of them that can’t be easily or otherwise reached, and fulfills a set of desires that organized and rule-bound team sports simply can’t.

The Bobby series is great for a number of reasons. Not only does Yee tell good stories, but the world she’s built has the potential to teach young readers lots of good lessons. And I’m glad she put in the time and effort needed to make her main character’s relationship to his favorite activity feel so real and true. Because if the false notes so common in other kid lit books about skateboarding leave me feeling frustrated and alienated from the story, its characters, and its author, imagine how a younger reader might feel. None of the good that books like Yee’s have to offer would get through to them, and that’s just a silly risk to take.