Early Readers Series: New Additions for your Book Shelf

April 21, 2014

Spring-readingIf you know readers who are clicking with chapter book series, you’ll have cause to celebrate this spring.  There are new additions to your favorite characters’ adventures–and  a wonderful new series that promises to entice early readers who love Harry Potter-type fantasy.  If this is a new love for your child, you  might want to check out some of our previous posts and recommendations:

Series Recommendations for Early Readers

Feisty Girls in Early Reader Chapter Books

Early Reader Chapter Books for Boys

Here’s a taste of the new crop:

Operation-BunnyOperation Bunny:  Book One (Wings & Co.) by Sally Gardner, illustrated by David Roberts

If you’re looking for a magical world with its own set of internal reality, written with literary integrity, and a great sense of humor, this is the series for you! Young Emily Vole has as horrific a young childhood as Harry Potter, with parents who start out adopting her as an infant, then turn her into a housekeeper and nanny when their triplets are born.  Luckily, her elderly neighbor Miss String befriends her and teachers her history, German—and magic. She also finds herself depending on a talking cat and a grumpy fairy detective to help save the fairies from the wicked witch.  Emily becomes a no-nonsense and very brave detective who specializes in magical crimes.  The first of what promises to be a delightful series!

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Fly-GuyFly Guy Presents:  Dinosaurs by Tedd Arnold

Fly Guy brings non-fiction to life, whether it’s sharks or space or most recently dinosaurs!  Perfect for young readers, these books are adventurous, funny, well-illustrated, and draw kids into reading.  After reading this latest Fly Guy adventure, you’ll want to take in the natural history museum nearest you.

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Junie-BJunie B.’s Essential Survival Guide to School by Barbara Parks

Junie B.Jones is a staple in many primary school classrooms –and for good reason.  There’s humor, delightful and true-to-life situations, and of course, the spunky heroine herself, Junie B.  In her Essential Guide to School, she shares with her audience her learning over the last one and a half years of schooling she has experienced.  And she has lots of useful information to share.  Along with her trademark humor, Junie passes on advice, contributes her own handwriting and drawing, and has pages where her audience can contribute.  It makes a great literary activity book for young readers.

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SasspantsGoing, Going, Dragon (Guinea Pig, Pet Shop Private Eye) by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Stephani Yue

If you’ve enjoyed the adventures of Sasspant, Hamisher, and the gang at Mr. Venezi’s Pet Shop, you’ll love the latest installment.  Mr. Venezi doesn’t even pretend to sell pets anymore (Venezi’s Stuff is the name of his shop).  This gives the crew time to pursue new hobbies and interests.  The fish (all named Steve) have time to turn their limited attention to scuba diving; the mice ( always dramatic) are into theatrical pursuits.  But all is not well.  Is that a dragon that has moved into the shop?    Sasspants must come out of retirement for one more case, in what is rumored to be the final installment of this series.  Don’t miss it!

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TheaThea Stilton and the Great Tulip Heist:  A Geronimo Stilton Adventure by Thea Stilton

Thea Stilton, Geronimo Stilton’s sister, is Special Correspondent for The Rodent’s Gazette.  She often chronicles her brother’s–and her own–adventures.  Now, she also writes about her mousling friends (and students), five mouse apprentices who call themselves The Thea Sisters.  The latest adventure takes place in the Netherlands and revolves around the disappearance of a mouse botanist, who studies the rare black tulip. Young readers will enjoy this trip through Holland, with windmills, rare flowers, and the landscape and canals.

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Rapunzel, and Other Maidens in Towers: A Flight

April 12, 2014

rapunzelThe story of Rapunzel is another well-known fairy tale popularized by the Brothers Grimm.  But what are its roots?  Lots of speculation:  perhaps “Petrosinella,” an Italian fairy tale written in 1634 by Giambattista Basile; maybe the tale of Saint Barbara, who was locked in a tower by her father; or even the 10th century AD Persian story of Rudaba, who lets down her hair to let her lover climb up the tower walls to her.  Whatever her beginnings, Rapunzel is definitely a part of the Fairy Tale Hall of Fame, and well-known in today’s popular culture.  She is a worthy and fascinating topic for a family flight of books.  You’ll definitely want to start with Paul O. Zelinksy’s Caldecott Award- winning traditional retelling, based on the Brothers Grimm tale.  Then, dig into the other versions for an intriguing adventure in reading for the whole family!

Family Read-aloud:

RapunzelRapunzel by Paul O. Zelinsky and Brothers Grimm

The classic retelling is enhanced by the Renaissance-style illustrations that Zelinsky paints, drawing the reader(s) in with the magic of the words and images.  The story is familiar to most in its simple form:  Rapunzel is trapped in a tower with no door, visited only by the sorceress who imprisoned her.  When Rapunzel is visited by her captor, she lets down her rich luxurious (and strong!) hair so that the witch can climb up.  So goes her life until one day, a Prince hears her singing as he listens to the forest birds.  The perfect read-aloud to introduce the family to the wonders of Rapunzel.

Young Children:

Rapunzel-RIRapunzel by Rachel Isadora

How about a Rapunzel with beautiful long dreadlocks?  And a setting in Africa, with the Prince’s steed a Zebra? When your see Rachel Isadora’s signature (and always stunning) collage and oil illustrations, you know you and your young readers and listeners are in for a treat.  The retelling is simple, but though in a different culture than the original, very true to the well-known tale. We are long-time fans of Rachel Isadora, so if you are intrigued by her work, check out:  Two New Books by Rachel Isadora and International Children’s Book Day which includes a review of The Ugly Duckling.

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Rapunzel,-bilingualRapunzel/Rapunzel:  A Bilingual Book (Bilingual Fairy Tales) by Francesc Bofill, illustrated by Joma Joma

Some bilingual texts suffer in the translation.  But this whole series does a fine job of capturing the traditional story in both English and Spanish.  The illustrations are quite wonderful, too, adding to the subtle charm with some modern twists.  The colloquial language in both languages is a treat:  for example,  in English, Rapunzel and the prince “lived happily ever after”; in Spanish, “Y vivieron felices y comieron perdices el resto de sus dias” (“And they lived happily and ate partridges for the rest of their days”).  Yum!

Early Readers:

FallingFalling for Rapunzel by Leah Wilcox, illustrated by Lydia Monks

Perfect for young readers who enjoy Amelia Bedelia-like puns and plays on words.  In this fractured fairy tale version, the Prince comes along to try to visit Rapunzel, but she is too far away to hear his words.  When he asks her to “throw down her hair,” she tosses down her underwear.  When the Prince tries to clarify by explaining, “No, Rapunzel, your curly locks,” she throws down her dirty socks.   It gets worse and worse from here, with a satisfying and surprising conclusion.  The rhyming is fun and playful, and so are the bright and bold illustrations.

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Sugar-CaneSugar Cane:  A Caribbean Rapunzel by Patricia Storace, illustrated by Raul Colon

In this Caribbean version, Madame Fate steals away little Sugar Cane on her first birthday.  Her only company in the high tower where she is imprisoned is a pet green monkey named Callaloo.  She is sustained by her love of music and sings by her window, waiting for the echoes to come back to her.  Her voice draws a handsome young man to her tower, and the traditional tale unfolds from here, with some added magic and mystery.  Beautiful and lyrical language from the author, who is an award-winning poet.

Tweens and Teens:

Rapunzel's-RevengeRapunzel’s Revenge  by Dean Hale, and Shannon Hale, illustrated by Nathan Hale

Another retelling, this one set in the Wild Wast, where cowgirl Rapunzel teams up with Jack (of  beanstalk fame).  I love this version, with a suitably spunky heroine who rescues herself from the tower (using her amazing hair, of course) and ignores the Prince to join the outlaw Jack in righting wrongs and freeing the kingdom from the evil witch.  Humorous (and downright witty) dialogue  and magical illustrations that combine the fairy tale setting with a rugged desert countryside make this a sure winner with the tweens on your life.

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Rapunzel-UntangledRapunzel Untangled by Cindy C. Bennett

Welcome to the 21st century, Rapunzel!  In this retelling, Rapunzel lives a lonely and isolated life in her mother’s mansion, never allowed to venture beyond its walls, believing she has a severe immune disease and that exposure to any outside germs will be fatal.  When she needs a computer to complete her on-line high school studies,  her isolation ends with her exposure to the world through the Internet.  With the aid of Facebook, Rapunzel befriends a young man (Fab Fane) who vows to help her escape her isolation.  Along the way, he introduces her to contemporary pop culture and modern food.  Witchcraft and prophecies fulfilled remain at the heart of this retelling despite its modern trappings.  A fun read for fans of fairy tale retellings.

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RapunzelTwice Upon a Time:  Rapunzel:  The One With All the Hair by Wendy Mass

Another modern spin on the fairy tale, this time with Rapunzel trapped in  her tower, and Prince Benjamin by his family’s expectations.  Both teenagers’ stories are told separately, with lots of humor and Wendy Mass’s signature fine writing.  And the good news is, if you enjoy this book, you’ll like the others in the Twice Upon a Time series.

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Cress by Marissa Meyer

Adult:

Rapunzel-towerRapunzel and Other Maiden in the Tower Tales from Around the World by Heidi Ann Heiner

Heiner is a librarian researcher and collector of fairy tales from around the world.  This anthology of “maidens in towers” (some with long hair, though not all) contains over 50 stories of imprisoned princesses, maids, daughters, wives, and even political prisoners.  If you are intrigued by fairy tales and folk tales, Heidi Ann Heiner is a name to remember.  Check out her fabulous website:  SurLaLuneFairyTales.com


Niño Wrestles the World: A Review

April 5, 2014

NinoNiño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales

Viva La Lucha Libre!  Meet Niño:  somersault expert, popsicle lover, and world champion wrestler!  We meet the “Kid” as he is playing with his masked wrestler toys.  One by one, he defeats his wrestling opponents:  the Mummy of Guanajuato, the stone Olmec Head, La Llorona, the Alien, and the devil-like El Chamuco. But the worst is yet to come, his most formidable opponents, his sisters:  Las Hermanitas.  Love this book!  The language is fun and playful, including lots of nonsense action words like zok, splish, and zac.    A closing note explains the lucha libra culture, too and the endpapers reinforce the illustrations of the phenomenon.

I also celebrate this book, and wonderful Mexican author and illustrator Yuyi Morales, as a far more genuine contribution to multicultural children’s literature than the Spanish translations of English picture books.  The Spanish words and expressions will be familiar for many of our young readers–and also fun for non-Spanish speakers to learn and delight in.

Niño Wrestles the World is the 2014 winner of  the Pura Belpre Illustration Award, named for the first Latina librarian at the New York Public Library.  Check out other award-winning books at their website!


YA Books for Sports-Loving Young Men

March 28, 2014

~posted by Ruth

Books-and-sportsMostly, when we  post YA reviews, they are from the genres we love most:  historical fiction, sci-fi, contemporary issues. . .but lately, I have noticed a surge of terrific books that feature sports.  I’ve been on the lookout for books for the young men in my life, too.  Problem solved with the following books!  And when I dug in–well, I found they were as wonderful as my go-to genres.  So have a look, and see what you think!

MuckersMuckers by Sandra Neil Wallace

I start with Muckers because it is sport-based, but also great historical fiction, with a big helping of “Friday Night Lights.”  Set in a small mining town in Post-World War II Arizona, the story follows the gritty desegregated team as they take on bigger, better funded towns.  The anti-Communist sentiments, the racial tensions, and the pre-Korean War jitters add to the atmosphere in this gripping tale, based on a true story.

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Foul-TroubleFoul Trouble by John Feinstein

Terrell Jamerson has some tough choices to make–some exciting possibilities to further his basketball talents and attend college at the same time, and other tempting offers by sleazy “friends” and talent scouts for NCAA.  Feinstein pens a fast-paced story rich with intrigue and corruption that is too often part of the world of college and professional sports.  More than simply a sports story, Foul Trouble also brings in the role of investigative reporting, not to mention real-world sports figures.  A great read for basketball lovers–and also readers like me who enjoy an action-packed, well-written tale.

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SwaggerSwagger by Carl Deuker

Another basketball-based story, but this time more of a psychological novel.  Deuker manages to incorporate lots of game action into the book, at the same time he builds complex characters.  The story unfolds to reveal the complexity of friendships, and the range of adults in teens lives–some trustworthy, and others abusive.  Lots of rich discussion can accompany teens’ reading of this well-crafted novel.

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New Spring Picture Books for Young Readers

March 21, 2014

When book lovers’ thoughts turn to Spring, it is with a literary bent–even those of us who gravitate toward  hanging out with young children.  Luckily, there are lots of new (and high quality!) books just out this Spring that are a delight to share with toddlers, pre-schoolers, and early readers.

Easter-CatHere Comes the Easter Cat by Deborah Underwood, illustrated by Claudia Rueda

The illustrations make this book about a cat with attitude especially hilarious, with humor fit for a wide range of ages.  (It’s one of Grandpa Jim’s new favorites!) Cat is sick of the Easter Bunny getting all the credit, and decides he would do a much better job.  He hops on his Harley, outfitted in a resplendent sparking suit, and discovers the bitter truth: it’s a tough job!   The story is mostly conveyed through Cat’s facial expressions, which are priceless.   Witty and delightfully illustrated, this is a perfect book for the Easter Basket.

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MapleMaple by Lori Nichols

When Maple was “still a whisper,” her parents planted a maple tree in her honor.  As she grows, so does her friendly tree.  Her tree shelters her, and is always there to talk to, but isn’t very good at interacting; she does long for a friend who can throw snowballs!  One day, she finds a willow sapling next to her tree companion, and realizes they both are soon to have a sibling.  Readers get to meet the new baby, Willow, and see the sisters under the shifting maple leaves.  A sweet story with delightful lush illustrations.

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Nest  Nest by Jorey Hurley

You can tell that Jorey Hurley is a designer by trade, as her illustrations are simply stunning.  They have the simplicity of Japanese woodcuts, with vivid color and lots of detail.  Nest tells the story of a robin family through the seasons, with minimal words that are in perfect synch with the pictures.  Very fitting baby gift that will grow with the child and be a treat for parents as well.

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I-HatchedI Hatched by Jill Esbaum

“I’ve studied me, and oh, my word. I am one amazing bird! This stripe is handsome, don’t you think? And look! My eyes can…blink blink blink!”  This is one energetic newborn killdeer chick!  Much like an enthusiastic and bubbly toddler, the chick sets off to explore with gusto.  The rhymes are fun, the pictures are enticing. ..it’s an all-round great read for pre-schoolers.

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Say-HelloSay Hello Like This by Mary Murphy

Captivating rhymes, vivid pictures, animal sounds, and lift-the-flap page layouts.  What’s not to like?  A wonderful read-aloud for the youngest listeners, and fun for preschoolers–even kindergartners–as well.  A great book for chiming in and being silly.    Lots of fun-to-say words and rhymes, from   “flappy and clucky” chick greetings to “tiny and tappy” beetle salutations.  Great adjectives, too, like dogs who are “licky and loud” or cats who are “prissy and proud.”  And the pages are made of sturdy stuff, perfect for the exploring and none-too-gentle hands of babies and toddlers.

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RED RISING – Making YA Dystopia Fresh

March 14, 2014

-posted by Meghan

51txswPUCWL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_You’re totally over the dystopic YA genre, right?  How many times can people try and rip off the (brilliant and successful) Hunger Games formula:  love triangle, oppressed world of the future, girl that saves the day by becoming resourceful, tough and selfless?  Each series seems to get less successful, or more clearly written to cash in on a current trend.  So perhaps you’ve given up.  Moved over to reading something else for your (or your students or kids) YA fix.  Like the Game of Thrones type “ye olde kingdom” series  (some are among the best series out there today, like Tamora Pierce’s Trickster series, Maas’ Assassin books and A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlett books that take on Robin Hood mythology).  Or Steampunk, which if you haven’t read any of that genre, is a super fun different world (Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan trilogy or Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series are good starting places…).

But… before you vow not to see the world through dystopic glasses again, we have a new book you’ve got to read.  Red Rising by Pierce Brown.

Here’s a synopsis that won’t give anything too important away – it takes place in the future, a future where due to lack of resources, we’ve colonized Mars.  The world there has been divided into color castes – from lowly Reds, who mine the precious substance that society runs on deep below the surface of the planet, to Golds, who run everything.  But much like in the Hunger Games, even the higher castes are made to fight to the death for their place in the pecking order.  Guess what caste our hero, Darrow, belongs to?  If you’ve read a single YA book, you know he’s a Red, and that he’s going places and will be a leader in a revolution.

But soon the similarities stop, or at least the plotting and characters get so good, so nuanced and detailed and real that you don’t mind if it is a familiar formula.  Darrow is happy to be part of the society he lives in.  He’s married to the love of his life.  He’s good at what he does.  He’s complacent.  So when Eo, his love, dies, he begins to fight.  Because he has no reason not to.

He is resurrected and remade into the image of a Gold, and sent to the Gold academy to fight for a place in society.  This fight has shades of Lord of the Flies, Game of Thrones, The Hunger Games, Percy Jackson and Roman mythology.  Yet because Darrow, and the friends he makes, the allusions feel like meeting old friends in the pages, not like a rip off.

Anything else we can say will either give too much away (and there are surprising twists and turns, violence galore, and heartbreak that will leave you reaching for tissues) or risk turning off readers by endless comparisons.

Go get this book – we think it’s one of the best in YA in the last several years, and certainly one of the best debut novels in a very long time.  Then come back and tell us your thoughts.  Derivative or divine?  Let us know!


Celebrating Josephine Baker : One for Me and One for You

March 8, 2014

Well, technically, it’s One for Me and Two for You, but we are generous with our Book Pairing Suggestion for this month.
While you share these two “dazzling” picture books about the amazing Josephine Baker with younger readers, you’ll also want to dig into the fascinating bio of this talented and tormented woman.

Picture Books for Young Readers:

JosephineJosephine:  The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker by Patricia Hruby Powell, illustrated by Christian Robinson

A story of struggle and triumph comes to life in this vibrantly illustrated picture book, rich with the eloquent language of verse.  Josephine Baker began her life in the slums of St. Louis and became an world-honored performer and civil rights advocate.  She is famed for “dancing her way to the top” including performances at Carnegie Hall and Paris theatres. Readers are also drawn into the fascinating time period in which she lived and performed, struggled and succeeded.  A meticulously researched and beautiful picture book!

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Jazz-ageJazz Age Josephine:  Dancer, Singer–Who’s That, Who? Why, That’s MISS Josephine Baker to You! by Jonah Winter, Illustrated by Marjorie Priceman

More than a biography of a fascinating woman and artist, this gorgeously illustrated picture book is also an ode to the Jazz Age.  The voice, rhythm, and magic of the blues and jazz are key elements of the writing.  Baker’s activism, dancing, and performing come alive in pages that can only be described as exuberant.   A wonderful companion book with The Dazzling Life of Josephine Baker.

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Adult Biography:

JosephineJosephine: The Hungry Heart by Jean-Claude Baker and Chris Chase

Josephine ‘s life story is told with candor,  incredible detail and rich research into time and place.  As the picture books demonstrates, her story of struggle takes her from poverty to world-traveler and heroine.  Still recognized as a national hero for her work in the French Resistance during World War II, Josephine was also idolized as a superb artist and performer. But this bio doesn’t shy away from her shadow side. Josephine was also, as one critic put it, “a monster who made Joan Crawford look like the Virgin Mary.”  She adopted 12 children of different races from all over the world and called them her Rainbow Tribe–and they suffered with her when her manic episodes rocked her. As a side-note, this is a must-read if you are enchanted by the Paris cabaret scene!


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