Monday, October 21, 2019

Middle Grade Monday and Arc Review: The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

Image: Simon & Schuster
The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner. 272 p. Aladdin/ Simon & Schuster, September, 2019. 9781534431454. (Review of arc courtesy of publisher.)

Middle Grade Monday features a debut graphic novel, The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner. Moth Hush doesn't fit in at school. Her single-mother is silent about her father or any other family. It has always been just the two of them. But when Moth suddenly comes into her magic while being bullied on Halloween, her mother reveals that she comes from a long line of witches dating back to Colonial Salem. Moth's grandmother fled into a portal to live under the protection of Hecate but Moth's mother decided to leave. She forbids Moth from practicing magic but Moss finds her diary. With the help of a talking black cat, begins training herself. What could go wrong? 

This graphic novel coming-of-age story is quite relatable even if you don't have magical powers. Inventive and engaging. The story is unique with compelling characters. The arc's art was in black and white but samples show lush coloring. 

Friday, October 18, 2019

Fact Friday and Review: Playlist: the rebels and revolutionaries of sound by James Rhodes

Image: Candlewick Press
Playlist: the rebels and revolutionaries of sound by James Rhodes. Illustrated by Martin O'Neill. 68 p. Candlewick Studios/ Candlewick Press, October, 2019. 9781536212143. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

One vivid memory I have from my senior year of high school has to do with a brand new LA class called "Humanities." It was taught by a brilliant woman named Miss Kehoe. She had that rare combination of control and approachability and she was so cultured! Thanks to her, I can pretty accurately identify the major (and some minor) artists through the ages. 

She touched a bit on musicians as well. I recall a bunch of boys rolling their eyes at the idea of classical music and extolling the musical virtue of groups like Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Yes and the Rolling Stones. She was prepared; explaining that most rock and roll musicians had classical training and were even adapting classical pieces in their own music. She used ELP's "Pictures at an Exhibition" as an example. Color me impressed.

Color me impressed by Rhodes' approach in this book. Colorful, cool,  and occasionally comic, this LP-sized book will captivate students of music as well as lure readers who are not musicians.

These sixty-plus pages brim with information. In straightforward and conversational text, Rhodes immediately engages the readers making the hundreds-year-old history relevant. He talks about seven classical musicians (acknowledging that they are all white and male) and highlights two pieces from each. You might be wondering how he can do this in print. He created a Spotify playlist for each and readers can log on to hear the examples he provides. 

Each musician gets a two-page "Facts of Life" spread followed by pages devoted to explaining the pieces that were chosen. There's added information about orchestras as well as a timeline interspersed among the biographies. Eye-popping sometimes psychedelic illustrations add energy and zest. A two-page vocabulary concludes the book. There are no source notes and specific recommendations for further reading. 

Playlist is a first-purchase! Book talk it and display it prominently and it won't sit. 

Thursday, October 17, 2019

#tbt: Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick

Image: Scholastic
Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick. 272 p. Scholastic Press/ Scholastic Inc., October, 2004. 0439755190. (Own)

#tbt celebrates the fifteenth anniversary of Jordan Sonnenblick's debut novel, Drums, Girls and Dangerous Pie. This first-person novel is a TMS favorite. Steven relates the story of his eighth grade year starting at graduation, then flashing back. When his younger brother, Jeffrey is diagnosed with leukemia, the entire family dynamic shifts. Everyone is rightfully worried about Jeffrey. Steven tries to keep this news hidden from his friends and teachers. He just wants to get through eighth grade and get better at drumming. But fear and financial worry as well as treatment setbacks for Jeffrey take a toll on everyone. At turns poignant and hilarious, readers who don't like sad books will fall in love. Readers who do, will find a new favorite. The voice is captivating from page one. 

Most of Sonnenblick's books are favorites here at TMS. There is a companion novel called, After Ever After. BTW, if you are looking for a great author visit, Jordan's visits are outstanding. He really connects with students. Visit his website for details about his visits


Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Waiting on Wednesday: Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Stuart Gibbs

Image: Simon & Schuster

Tyrannosaurus Wrecks by Stuart Gibbs. 336 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, March 24, 2020. 9781534443754.

Publisher synopsis: In the latest novel in New York Times bestselling author Stuart Gibbs’s FunJungle series, Teddy Fitzroy returns as FunJungle’s resident sleuth to solve his most improbable mystery yet—with a victim that’s 65 million years old.

Teddy was all set for a campout at his friend Sage’s family ranch—but then Sage gets terrible news: The skull of a rare dinosaur that was being excavated on his property has mysteriously vanished overnight in the middle of a rainstorm, even though it weighed 500 pounds. Not a single footprint has been left behind. Since the dinosaur was top secret, the police don’t believe anyone outside the dig could have stolen it.

A T-rex skull can sell for millions of dollars, and everyone is a suspect—including J.J. McCracken, the owner of FunJungle.

Meanwhile, Teddy’s old foes, the Barksdale twins, have gotten into trouble with an illegally purchased anaconda, and Teddy’s girlfriend Summer wants to find out who’s behind the local trade in black market reptiles. The two cases will drag Teddy into more danger and chaos than ever before, in this mystery that’s stranger than fiction.

All of Stuart Gibbs series are top circulators at my school and, with good reason, they are consistently fantastic. I had the privilege of reviewing the first and second Funjungle books for SLJ. I haven't been able to continue the series partly due to time and mostly due to the fact that Gibbs' shelf is usually empty from the second week of school through the end of the school year!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Teen Tuesday: The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie

Image: Penguin Random House
The Last Voyage of Poe Blythe by Ally Condie. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~9 hours. Read by Sophie Amoss. Listening Library, March, 2019. 9781984837929. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library. Arc courtesy of publisher.)

Poe Blythe is bent on revenge. The eighteen-year-old is about to captain a ship that she designed. Two years earlier, her best friend, Call was murdered while they were crew on a ship that was dredging gold. The ship was stolen by the Raiders. Poe vowed to take revenge on the Raiders by designing an impregnable ship. That was the only thing that kept her alive these past two years and now she gets to take the ship on its last dredging mission. She has been assigned a crew by the Admiral. But can she trust them? Can she trust the Admiral? And, what of the Council, who are divided in their loyalty to Poe.

This dystopian unfolds slowly. Poe is aloof and difficult to know and so her first-person narration is guarded. Is she an unreliable narrator?  The world seems dangerous and forbidding and hopeless. People are desperate and vicious. This steampunk/ sci-fi/ dystopian is dark and unsettling. The narrator's terse, succinct delivery underscores Poe's detached demeanor effectively. 

If you're a fan of the dystopian genre, this book is for you. The patience needed in the beginning pays off as pieces start falling into place. Recommended!


Monday, October 14, 2019

Middle Grade Monday and Arc Review: Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

Image: Simon & Schuster

Look Both Ways: a tale told in ten blocks by Jason Reynolds. 208 p. Atheneum/ Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, October 8, 2019. 9781481438285. (Review of borrowed arc.)

Middle Grade Monday features Look Both Ways: a tale told in ten blocks by Jason Reynolds. My library sits above the main entrance of my school. The dismissal bell rings at 3:10 and by 3:12 students start streaming out. There's a line of three buses and usually a fairly long line of late model cars lined up for pick-up; but a majority of our nearly six hundred students seem to walk - at least across the street to the library for a while before dispersing. I've often contemplated their lives, especially if I'm worried about any in particular. 

Jason Reynolds follows a few kids home in his new book, Look Both Ways. Any new book by Reynolds is cause to celebrate. He's an automatic purchase for me even if he writes the phone book. Not surprisingly, Look Both Ways is a National Book Award Finalist.

This collection of short stories follows ten or so children home from school on the day a school bus "fell from the sky." They are loosely connected and at turns poignant and hilarious.  It is a fabulous collection of short stories featuring interesting characters, gorgeous writing, and hi and low humor. Like all well-written short stories, each feels as though they could've been expanded into a full-length novel. Perfect for reading aloud.

Jason Reynolds is a TMS favorite. Most of his books have won some type of award from the Coretta Scott King to the National Book Award, where his popular book, Ghost, was a finalist. If you think you hate to read, you need to try one of Reynolds' books. Look Both Ways is a good place to start.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

What's New? Stacking the Shelves


Stacking the Shelves is a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. Hop on over there to ogle what other bloggers got this week.

It was a bit of a banner week for book mail.

For review:
Image: Candlewick Press
The Raymie Nightingale Three-Book Collection by Kate DiCamillo. Boxed set. Candlewick Press, October, 2019. 9781536210385.

Publisher synopsis: Kate DiCamillo’s sequence of novels about the Three Rancheros is now complete — and with this beautiful hardcover boxed set, readers can savor all three.

First came Raymie Nightingale, the “triumphant and necessary book”* that would become a National Book Award Finalist. Then followed the tender Louisiana’s Way Home, featuring “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” (The New York Times Book Review) and marking the first time the two-time Newbery Medalist had revisited the world of one of her novels. And finally, the much-hoped-for third novel, Beverly, Right Here, awaits its rapt audience. Here, the entire trilogy of novels — the perfect gift for both longtime fans and new devotees — is available in a beautifully designed set. Included are hardcover editions of: Raymie Nightingale
Louisiana’s Way Home
Beverly, Right Here

Image: Candlewick Press

Jon Klassen's Hat Box. Three-Book Set. Candlewick Press, October, 2019. 9780763666972.

Publisher synopsis: Hold on to all of your hats at once for this special collection of Jon Klassen’s celebrated hat trilogy.

The bear’s hat is gone, and he wants it back. A fish has stolen a hat; will he get away with it? Two turtles have found one hat, but the hat looks good on both of them. . . . Jon Klassen’s deliciously deadpan hat tales continue to surprise and delight readers of all ages, and they are all now available in one impeccably designed boxed set along with a free frameable print. Included are: I Want My Hat Back
This Is Not My Hat
We Found a Hat



This Book is Gray by Lindsey Ward. Unpgd. Two Lions/ Amazon Publishing, November 1, 2019. 978`541043403.

Publisher synopsis: Gray just wants to be included. But the other colors are always leaving him out. So he decides to create his own project: an all-gray book. Once upon a time, there lived a wolf, a kitten, and a hippo…

Gray just knows it’s going to be perfect. But as he adds page after page, the Primary and Secondary colors show up…and they aren’t quite so complimentary.

A book within a book, this colorful tale explores the ideas of fitting in, appreciating others, and looking at things from another perspective and also uses personality and wit to introduce basic color concepts.



Santa's Story by Will Willenbrand. unpgd. Two Lions/ Amazon Publishing, September, 2019. 97811542043380.

Publisher synopsis: Santa is ready to leave on Christmas Eve, but he can’t find the reindeer anywhere. Dasher is busy dashing, Donner is dozing, and Cupid is crooning. It isn’t until Santa remembers their annual tradition—reading a Christmas story together—that the reindeer are ready.

Reindeer merriment abounds in this charming yuletide tale about honoring the celebration of holiday customs with those you love.


Image: Penguin Random House
Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim. 320 p. Kokila/ Penguin Random House, March, 2020. 9780525554974.

Publisher synopsis: One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura–and Yumi doesn’t correct them.

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.


So far, everything I've read from Penguin's newest imprint has been awesome!

Riches from Greystone Kids via Sharon Sloan:


Image: Greystone Kids
Spur, a wolf's story by Eliza Robertson. Illustrated by Nora Aoyagi. unpgd. Greystone Kids, September, 2019. 9781771643412.

Publisher synopsis: This captivating tale will inspire children across the world to build compassion for an iconic yet vulnerable animal.

In award-winning author Eliza Robertson’s stunning debut children’s book, a young, brave wolf named Spur is looking for food with her brother when, suddenly, a flying beast appears in the sky. What was that thing? And where did her brother go? The next time the helicopter appears, Spur knows just what to do to save her wolf pack and reunite with her brother.

Stirring, gorgeous illustrations of wolves, snow, and trees illuminate this uplifting and empowering story, which offers a gentle message for protecting wild wolves in North America and beyond. Just like us, wolves have brothers, sisters, parents, and friends—and they very much need our help.


Image: Greystone Kids

Can You Hear the Trees Talking? Discovering the hidden life of the forest by Peter Wohlleben. 84 p. Greystone Kids, October, 2019. 9781771644341.

Publisher synopsis: With his groundbreaking, internationally bestselling book The Hidden Life of Trees, Peter Wohlleben established himself as a global advocate for forests and our relationship with trees. Now, Peter shares his famous imagination and storytelling style with children, asking surprising questions about trees with exciting quizzes, photographs, and hands-on activities to help even the most reluctant learners discover the answers.

Did you know that trees have parents, and tree grandparents with wrinkles? That tree kids go to school for hundreds of years? That there is such a thing as the forest internet? And that trees make us healthy and strong. Sometimes, even trees get sick, but we can help them heal.

Can You Hear the Trees Talking? shares the mysteries and magic of the forest in language kids will love and understand.



Image: Greystone Kids
Birdsong by Julie Flett. 48 p. Greystone Kids, September, 2019. 9781771644730.

Publisher synopsis: A tender, luminous portrait of art, nature, and connecting across generations.

When a young girl moves from the country to a small town, she feels lonely and out of place. But soon she meets an elderly woman next door, who shares her love of art and nature. Can the girl navigate the changing seasons and failing health of her new friend? Acclaimed author and artist Julie Flett’s textured images of birds, flowers, art, and landscapes bring vibrancy and warmth to this powerful story, which highlights the fulfillment of intergenerational relationships and shared passions.


Image: Greystone Kids
Hello, Crow! by Candace Savage. Illustrated by Chelsea O'Byrne. unpgd. Greystone Kids, September,2019. 9781771644440.

Publisher synopsis: Will Franny ever prove to her dad that crows and kids can be friends?

Franny has a new friend—a crow who brings her presents in its beak. Like a red button! And a silver heart! Franny’s dad doesn’t believe her. He says crows and kids can’t be friends. But Franny knows better.

How will Franny prove her new playmate is real? And what will the crafty crow bring next?



Image: Greystone Kids
The Moose of Ewenki by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane. Illustrated by Jiu Er. 68 p. Greystone Kids, September, 2019. 9781771645386.

Publisher synopsis: When a Mongolian elder named Gree Shrek hunts a female moose by mistake, her young calf is left behind. Saddened by her loss, Gree Shrek names the calf Xiao Han (“Little Moose”) and the moose and man form an authentic attachment. Xiao Han accompanies Gree Shrek as the hunter-gatherer herds reindeer, sets up camp, forages for food in the forest, and visits his peoples’ village, where many fun adventures happen. But as the little moose grows bigger, Gree Shrek knows he must return his companion to the forest.

Richly detailed, painterly illustrations by Chinese fine artist Jiu’er bring authenticity and beauty to this thoughtful book, which illuminates the traditional and vanishing way of life for the Ewenki peoples of Inner Mongolia.



Purchased: Nothing!


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