THE UNWANTEDS by Lisa McMann: Strong Recommendation for a Middle School Series

July 21, 2017

The Unwanteds by Lisa McMann

I’ve always been fascinated by the tween and teen dystopia novels.  Recently, of course, there have been The Hunger Games and Divergence. But before that, there was The Tripod Trilogy by John Christoper, the Matched series by Ally Condie, The Giver by Lois Lowrie, and more.  There’s something riveting about peering into these dysfunctional and frightening universes, and seeing the strengths of the heroes who fight to create better worlds.

My nieces Hazel and Charlotte are super-readers, and when they came to Portland to visit last month, they recommended reading The Unwanteds, which tells the tale of a world where 13-year-olds are sorted into Wanted, Necessary (who both get to stay in the Land of Quill), and for those unlucky ones deemed Unwanted, there is Elimination.  And the Unwanted are the ones who show any spark of originality or creativity.  Alex and Aaron are twins who face this uncertain future together, though both know the likely results.  It’s hard for Alex to leave his twin behind, but Aaron immediately sets his heart to forgetting his brother, as the people of Quill expect him to.  But instead of the “Death Farm” he expects, Alex discovers the magical and wonderful world of  Artimé, where he and his fellow Unwanteds nurture their creativity and learn to use magic to enhance their talents. The twins have a hand in bringing the two worlds together in a strange, terrifying, and wondrous way–and with surprising results.  The magic reminds me of Harry Potter at Hogwarts, and the world of Quill a bit of The Hunger Games.  I’ve only read the first, but look forward to the whole series (seven books so far).

I’ve just recommended the series to Molly and Jacob and I’m awaiting their reviews.  We’ll keep you posted!


July 14, 2017

Cleopatra in Space:  The Golden Lion by Mike Maihak

Make time in your summer reading for the fourth in the graphic novel series CLEOPATRA IN SPACE.  If you haven’t read the first three books, you might want to check out our reviews here and here.

Cleopatra is a unique and appealing character. And I especially love futuristic Egypt with its cool pyramid skyscrapers.  The adventures continue in this latest episode, with Cleopatra venturing to the icy planet Cada’duun to battle with a new enemy who has been instructed ti destroy the Golden Lion.  The Golden Lion, by the way, has been located on Cada’duun and Cleopatra has a difficult challenge, since the Lion itself is a star with immeasurable energy that could destroy them all if weaponized.  Cleo herself is such a great superhero, not to mention her friends as well as the villains.  The series just gets better and better!

THE HATE U GIVE by Angie Thomas: A New Soon-To-Be Classic To Recommend

July 9, 2017

The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas

Such an important new book! Not only is the plot line riveting, the characters believable and intriguing, and the writing engaging, the novel is  important and topical, emotional and powerful.  I’m not the first reader or reviewer that sees it as a soon-to-be classic.  This gut-wrenching novel shows the battle for justice of a brave young woman, Starr, as she experiences the death of friends, racial stereotypes, as well as the support and care of a loving family. The book, inspired by the Black Lives Matter movement, humanizes situations that are portrayed in the media, from every angle.  This is a masterful feat, as the story is told from one point of view, Starr’s, which makes it easier to be drawn into the compelling narrative. I recommend this book for every reader in high school and older.  John Green’s review says it all:  “Stunning, brilliant, gut-wreching. . .” To avoid spoilers, I am not going to summarize the plot–just trust me on this and get your hands on the book!


Two New Graphic Novels for Tweens: REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and INVISIBLE EMMIE by Terri Libenson

June 30, 2017

If you haven’t become addicted to the best of tween graphic novels, you have no excuse to wait. This year, two new additions have swept onto the scene, captivating young readers–and their older siblings and parents as well.  Both books are memoirs in the same vein as Cece Bell’s El Deafo, exploring with truth, pathos, and humor the ups and downs of friendship and life at school with in and out groups.  Shannon Hale is a well-known award-winning writer, turning to the genre of the graphic novel for the first time as she teams up with best-selling illustrator LeUyen Pham, while Terri Libenson makes her debut.  We highly recommend both novels to start off your summer reading.

Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham

Shannon herself is the main character, of course, in this graphic memoir of best friends Shannon and Adrienne.  Their friendship begins when they are very young and only heads into troubled waters when Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, a”popular girl” and leader of a clique calling itself The Group. Hilariously–and poignantly–true-to-life.  A wonderful mother-daughter book to read and discuss with upper elementary school girls. (And boys will enjoy it as well.)



Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson

Though this is her first book, Terri Libenson is no newcomer to writing and illustrating.  (Check out her award-winning comic strip The Pajama Diaries.) Invisible Emmie is a wonderful companion book to Real Friends.  It’s the story of two very different girls:  one a popular extrovert and the other:  well, the title says it all.  Emmie feels invisible at her school and the graphics throughout the book complement the girls’ daily experiences, with Emmie mostly in black and white comic strips, and Katie in full color.  The event of a note getting into the wrong hands is cringe-worthy–but leads to a cross-roads where the two girls lives intersect.  There are some real surprises here as we experience through the novel the ups and downs, boredom and excitement, not to mention humor and humiliation, of the middle school experience. A stunning debut!  I’ll be watching for more from Libenson.

FIRSTBORN by Tor Seidler: Must Reading for Yellowstone Visitors

June 23, 2017

Firstborn by Tor Seidler

We just returned from a trip to Yellowstone National Park as well as The Grand Tetons.  Still in a daze, we are remembering how filled with awe we were by the geysers, mountains, wilderness hikes, and the wildlife.  Greeting me when I got home was an email from my niece Hazel, recommending Firstborn. I really appreciate that she is continuing the family tradition of recommending books–and especially that she was remembering our special road trip.  Immediately, I got my hands on the novel and tore through it.  A great read for tweens–and up through adults! Like many appealing novels for children and adolescents, Firstborn has animals that speak to each other, and engage in deep and far-reaching conversations.  But here, they also adhere to known facts about life in the wild.  The story centers on Maggie, a magpie who leaves her home and becomes an unofficial member of a wolf pack. Blue Boy, the pack’s alpha, is her friend and companion, and she serves as both informant and confidant.  It’s a truly magical book that invites readers into pack life. Of course there’s lots of danger, excitement, beauty but there are also things we know from human families, like love and loyalty, bravery and honor. I loved revisiting the geysers, wildlife, and natural beauty of Yellowstone, but from a different perspective.  I don’t want to give away any plot details, so just trust me on this:  you’ll love it!


June 18, 2017

We recently highlighted the first two books in the Bunjitsu Bunny series, and we are delighted to announce the third book, Bunjitsu  Bunny Jumps to the Moon by John Himmelman, is just as appealing.  And just as perfect for early readers just learning the pleasures of chapter  books.  If this series is new to you, you’ll want to check out the earlier books as well.  Isabel, aka Bunjitsu Bunny, returns with more adventures and with more zen-like morals to each of her tales.  The sweetly funny stories remind me of the tone of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad collections.  As the saga of Bunjitsu Bunny continues, we follow Isabel as she makes friends, develops her skills, uses her mind, and faces her fears.  I am hoping for many more in this terrific series!

DRAGONS LOVE TACOS 2: THE SEQUEL by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

June 8, 2017

Dragons Love Tacos 2:  The Sequel by Adam Rubin, illustrated by Daniel Salmieri

Just what we need as we start our summer reading wish list!  The companion to the hilarious picture book:  Dragons Love Tacos.  To be specific, Adam Rubin has named it a sequel, and with good reason.  We pick up the story to follow what happens to our dragon friends when there are no more tacos left anywhere on earth!  As we all know, dragons love tacos, so this is a big problem. They have to go back to the past before tacos were extinct.  The cavemen and time travel are a bit more difficult for the youngest readers to grasp, but I think kids 5 and older will be eager audiences.   The illustrations, as usual are terrific and the book is simply laugh out loud funny.  A perfect book to kick off a family read aloud extravaganza.