Monday, May 31, 2021

Middle Grade Monday and Audiobook Review: Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. Read by Imani Parks. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~11 hours. HarperAudio/ Balzer+Bray/ HarperCollins Publishers, January, 2021. 9780063057968.

Middle Grade Monday features Amari and the Night Brothers by B.B. Alston. This fantasy series starter is the author's debut and getting a lot of well-deserved Newbery buzz.

Thirteen-year-old Amari Peters has had it. She's a scholarship student at a fancy prep school and hates it. She's not as smart as her perfect older brother, Quinton, and is bullied relentlessly for being a scholarship student as well as the fact that her brother is missing-implying he was into drugs. Amari and her single-mom don't believe that for a second, but even the police have stopped investigating his disappearance. Now, she's facing expulsion for fighting and grounded as well. Then, she receives a mysterious package containing a message from her brother.

She learns that he was working for the Bureau of Supernatural Investigation and was one of their top agents. He and his partner were working on a case and disappeared. The message was to be delivered to Amari should something happen to him, but Amari refuses to believe that he's dead. He has recommended her to attend summer camp at the bureau. She wants to attend so that she can investigate Quinton's disappearance herself. Once there, she discovers that she has a magical power-only it's illegal.

Normal-kid-who-discovers-they-are-magical is a trope that has been done before, but this one feels fresh. It's fast-paced, suspenseful, twisty and narrated by gritty, gutsy Amari, whom readers will instantly root for. The world-building is excellent. The diverse cast of characters are all intriguing and the mystery is excellently constructed, with plenty of suspects and red herrings. I can't wait for the next installment of the Supernatural Investigations series.

I will be reading that book with my eyes however. I found the narration uneven, with odd pauses that distracted from the enjoyment of the story. 

Friday, May 28, 2021

What's New?

 "Stacking the Shelves" is was a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It seems the blog is gone though, for the link no longer takes you to it. So, I will just continue to post a "What's New? post whenever I receive new books. 

For Review:

Revolution in Our Time: the Black Panther Party's Promise to the People by Kekla Magoon. 400 p. Candlewick Press, September, 2021. 9781536223422.

Publisher synopsis: In this comprehensive, inspiring, and all-too-relevant history of the Black Panther Party, Kekla Magoon introduces readers to the Panthers’ community activism, grounded in the concept of self-defense, which taught Black Americans how to protect and support themselves in a country that treated them like second-class citizens. For too long the Panthers’ story has been a footnote to the civil rights movement rather than what it was: a revolutionary socialist movement that drew thousands of members—mostly women—and became the target of one of the most sustained repression efforts ever made by the U.S. government against its own citizens.

Revolution in Our Time puts the Panthers in the proper context of Black American history, from the first arrival of enslaved people to the Black Lives Matter movement of today. Kekla Magoon’s eye-opening work invites a new generation of readers grappling with injustices in the United States to learn from the Panthers’ history and courage, inspiring them to take their own place in the ongoing fight for justice.

With passion and precision, Kekla Magoon relays an essential account of the Black Panthers—as militant revolutionaries and as human rights advocates working to defend and protect their community.

I really enjoy Ms. Magoon's MG and YA fiction and am super-excited to read her first (?) foray into nonfiction.

Purchased: nothing!

What was in your mailbox this week?

Fact Friday: A Somber Centennial: Tulsa Race Massacre

May 31 to June 1 marks the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre. Like many white Americans, I did not learn of the Tulsa Race Massacre until reference was made to it by Kimberly Jones in this video uploaded last year. I looked it up and was horrified-first that it happened and then because the event was basically erased. 

I reviewed Unspeakable: the Tulsa Race Massacre, a picture book aimed at older readers to explain the tragedy here and was privileged to attend several virtual meetings featuring the author. Carole Boston Weatherford and Floyd Cooper did something extraordinary here and this book belongs in all schools. 

A short while ago, I got to listen to Brandy Colbert talk about her nonfiction book, Black Birds in the Sky: the Story and Legacy of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre and that book immediately got added to my next book order for the library. It's due out in October. 

New to me titles I will be adding are:

Image: Macmillan

The Burning: Black Wall Street and the Tulsa Race Masacre of 1921, adapted by Hilary Beard from Tim Madigan’s 2001 account for adult readers.

Image: Abrams

Across the Tracks: Remembering the Tulsa Race Massacre and Black Wall Street written by Alverne Ball and illustrated by Stacey Robinson is a nonfiction graphic novel.

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

#tbt: This Dark Endeavor: the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel

This Dark Endeavor: the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel. 302 p. Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, August, 2021. 

#tbt features This Dark Endeavor: the Apprenticeship of Victor Frankenstein by Kenneth Oppel. If you've ever read Mary Shelley's Frankenstein or, the Modern Prometheus, you may have wondered what drove Dr. Victor Frankenstein to pursue such a morally repugnant experiment. Canadian author Kenneth Oppel did and the result was a duology begun by this book.

Victor Frankenstein lives with his identical twin, Konrad and his distant cousin, Elizabeth in a sprawling chateau on the banks of Lake Geneva. They, along with family best friend Henry are inseparable adventurers. One day, while exploring the dark places in the chateau, they discover a dark library known as the Biblioteca Obscura. Once Victor's father discovers this, they are forbidden from ever entering the library again.

When Konrad falls seriously ill and doctors can find no cure for his mysterious ailment, Victor breaks his promise to his father and returns to the library in search of a cure.

This gothic horror story is riveting. It is a prequel to Shelley's classic and quite faithful to the original characters and setting. It is not necessary to have read it, though if you have, you will marvel at how well the two stories merge. 

Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: Tristan Strong Keeps Punching by Kwame Mbalia

Tristan Strong Keeps Punching by Kwame Mbalia. Tristan Strong series #3. 320 p. Rick Riordan Presents/ Disney Press, October 5, 2021. 9781368054874.

Waiting on Wednesday features Tristan Strong Keeps Punching by Kwame Mbalia. I am so excited for book three of this thrilling series based on West African mythology and African American folklore. Click here for my review of Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky and click here for Tristan Strong Destroys the World. The website, Rick Riordan Presents had a cover reveal last month. 

Here's the publisher synopsis: Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents the finale of Kwame Mbalia’s trilogy, in which Tristan Strong faces off with his archenemy, King Cotton, once and for all. After reuniting with Ayanna, who is now in his world, Tristan travels up the Mississippi in pursuit of his archenemy, King Cotton. Along the way they encounter new haints who are dead set on preventing their progress north to Tristan’s hometown of Chicago. It’s going to take many Alkean friends, including the gods themselves, the black flames of the afokena gloves, and all of Tristan’s inner strength to deliver justice once and for all. Shocking twists, glorious triumphs, and a cast of unforgettable characters make this series conclusion as satisfying as it is entertaining.

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir

A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir. Ember in the Ashes #4. Unabridged downloadable e-audiobook, ~17 hours. Read by Fiona Hardingham, Steve West, Katharine Lee McEwan, Maxwell Caulfield and Nikki Massoud. 9780593288047. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Teen Tuesday features A Sky Beyond the Storm by Sabaa Tahir. This is the concluding volume of the bestselling Ember in the Ashes series. And, yes, you must read all the books in order, so this review will be vague and hopefully, spoiler-free. The book begins months after the conclusion of Reaper at the Gates and follows our three heroes, Laia of Serra, Helene Aquilla, the Blood Shrike and Elias Veturia on their hero's journey. Keris Veturia and her armies are on the rampage across the kingdom. There is a great deal of violence and bloodshed in this series. It's definitely not for the faint-of-heart. If you love fantasy, there's a lot here to sink your teeth into-the world building is incredibly vivid, the characters are colorful and there's some heartbreaking romance (and deaths).

I have read the entire series with my ears and highly recommend doing so that way. The three principal narrators, Fiona Hardingham, Steve West and Katherine Lee McEwan are spellbinding as Laia, Elias and Helena.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Starfish by Lisa Fipps

Starfish by Lisa Fipps. 256 p. Nancy Paulsen Books/ Penguin Young Readers Group, March, 2021. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Happy Monday! I hope you had a spectacular weekend! I spent a lot of time in my garden and took Boo on some really long walks. I have a 17 hour biography loaded on my phone and was able to to do my three favorite things at once.

Middle Grade Monday features Stafish by Lisa Fipps. Twelve-year-old Ellie is struggling. Not only is she bullied mercilessly about her weight at school, but she finds no respite at home. Her older sister dubbed her "Splash" at a pool party when she was five and the nickname stuck, along with whale and others even crueler. Her mother dictates what she can and cannot eat and is investigating bariatric surgery even though the surgery is dangerous, almost killing her aunt and not recommended for children. Now, she feels extra alone because her best friend and next-door neighbor has moved away.

Ellie is a swimmer. She finds refuge in swimming laps in her pool every day. She also appreciates the efforts of her dad, her only ally, though he is often ineffective. She's especially disappointed to learn that she has to visit a therapist and vows not to say a word. Her therapist is very good and allows Ellie the time for silence. Soon Ellie grows into her own voice and learns to use it.

This verse novel is so real and raw that it was hard to listen sometimes. Jenna Lamia is always convincing as a teen. Her voice sounds naturally youthful and her performance is emotionally honest. 

Readers will root for Ellie and hopefully ponder why so many people feel it's okay to fat-shame another. Starfish is Ms. Fipps' debut and was inspired by her own childhood struggles. I look forward to reading her sophomore effort and can't wait to share this powerful story with my students. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

What's New?

"Stacking the Shelves" is was a weekly meme hosted by Tynga's Reviews. It seems the blog is gone though, for the link no longer takes you to it. So, I will just continue to post a "What's New? post whenever I receive new books. 

For Review:

Franklin Endicott and the Third Key by Kate DiCamillo. Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen. Tales from Deckawoo Drive series. 104 p. Candlewick Press, June, 2021. 9781536201819.

Publisher synopsis: 

Welcome back to Deckawoo Drive for a sixth endearing installment in the companion series to Kate DiCamillo’s New York Times best-selling Mercy Watson books. Frank Endicott is a worrier. He worries about lions, submarines, black holes, leprosy, and armadillos. He lists his worries alphabetically in a notebook and suffers vivid nightmares that even a certain neighborhood pig can’t dispatch. When he accompanies Eugenia Lincoln on an errand to duplicate a key at her favorite dark and dusty thrift shop, Frank earns fresh cause for alarm. Odd Buddy Lamp, the shop’s proprietor, has sent them home with the original key and its copy. Can Frank come to terms with the mystery without buckling under his mounting dread? With a little help from friends (old and new), hot cocoa, and some classic short stories read aloud, the prognosis is good.

The latest tale from Deckawoo Drive—and New York Times best-selling creators Kate DiCamillo and Chris Van Dusen—is a balm for young worrywarts facing the unknown.

I used to work in a K-8 school. It was quite the challenge purchasing books for such an age range with the budget I was given. It was also a challenge keeping up with books for students from K-8! The Mercy Watson books began releasing in 2005 and I left that position in June of 2008, so I was able to share the first four books about a sweet little pig who loved hot buttered toast with my younger students. I had no idea until now, that Ms. DiCamillo not only penned a fifth Mercy Watson book but, in 2014, spun a new series off. I have some catching up to do!

Purchased: Nothing this week, but I am filling a shopping cart b/c I received some AZ gift cards. The PTO Book Fair is next week and I'm receiving Scholastic Dollars to purchase books for the school library, so I'll be shopping! Yay!

What was in your mailbox this week?

Thursday, May 20, 2021

Fact Friday: Beneath the Waves: Celebrating the Ocean through Pictures, Poems and Stories by Stephanie Warren Drimmer

Beneath the Waves: Celebrating the Ocean through Pictures, Poems and Stories by Stephanie Warren Drimmer. 192 p. National Geographic, March, 2021. 9781426339165. (Review of finished copy borrowed from public library.)

Fact Friday features Beneath the Waves: Celebrating the Ocean through Pictures, Poems and Stories by Stephanie Warren Drimmer. This oversized is a handsome miscellanea of all things ocean. Well-organized and attractively designed, though not necessarily delivering on the promise of poems - there are six, leaving five of the eleven chapters without a poem. Nonetheless, the facts are fascinating, delivered in a combination of longer paragraphs as well as thumbnail boxes, and the photos are absolutely dazzling. The concluding chapter hammers home what we humans ought to be doing to protect the seas that surround us. 

Back matter consists of an afterword by Sylvia Earle, a list of scientific names and an index, making it helpful for young researchers to locate specific information. If you display this prominently, it won't sit. That cover just begs readers!

I learned of this thanks to the blog "Randomly Reading." Pop on over there to read a more detailed and descriptive review

Wednesday, May 19, 2021

#tbt: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Divergent by Veronica Roth. 496 p. HarperCollins Publisher, May, 2011. 9780062024027. (Own.)

#tbt celebrates the tenth anniversary of Divergent by Veronica Roth. In a post-apocalyptic Chicago, survivors live in factions that most align with their personality. When children reach the age of sixteen, they take a test in preparation for the ceremony where they will choose their faction - Candor, Abnegation, Amity or Dauntless. Tris, is a member of Abnegation by birth, but when she tests, her results label her as "Divergent." This disturbs her, especially when she's told to keep this result a secret. Readers follow Tris through her choice to join Dauntless. This dystopian trilogy beginner has a quick pace and is filled with quite a bit of violence. 

Divergent was Ms. Roth's debut. She wrote it in her senior year of college where she majored in creative writing. The book was immediately optioned for film, which starred Shailene Woodley. 

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: Linked by Gordon Korman

Linked by Gordon Korman. 256 p. Scholastic Inc. July 20, 2021. 9781338629118.

Waiting on Wednesday features Linked by Gordon Korman. Mr. Korman is a favorite author for many of my students. This one seems to be more serious than his usual fare. I'm intrigued.

Publisher synopsis: Link, Michael, and Dana live in a quiet town. But it’s woken up very quickly when someone sneaks into school and vandalizes it with a swastika.

Nobody can believe it. How could such a symbol of hate end up in the middle of their school? Who would do such a thing?

Because Michael was the first person to see it, he’s the first suspect. Because Link is one of the most popular guys in school, everyone’s looking to him to figure it out. And because Dana’s the only Jewish girl in the whole town, everyone’s treating her more like an outsider than ever.

The mystery deepens as more swastikas begin to appear. Some students decide to fight back and start a project to bring people together instead of dividing them further. The closer Link, Michael, and Dana get to the truth, the more there is to face — not just the crimes of the present, but the crimes of the past.

With Linked, Gordon Korman, the author of the acclaimed novel Restart, poses a mystery for all readers where the who did it? isn’t nearly as important as the why?

Monday, May 17, 2021

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: The Desolations of Devil's Acre by Ransom Riggs

The Desolations of Devil's Acre by Ransom Riggs. Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children series #6. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~15 hours. Narrated by Kirby Heyborne. Listening Library, February, 2021. 9780593415306. (Review of downloadable e-audiobook borrowed from the public library.)

Teen Tuesday features The Desolations of Devil's Acre by Ransom Riggs. This sixth book of Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children is the series finale. It is absolutely imperative that the books get read in order. Book five, The Conference of Birds, ended in a cliffhanger and book six picks right up. There will be no spoilers here, except to say that the pace is fast, furious and fairly violent. Fans of the series will absolutely need to read this finale because all of Peculiardom is in jeopardy and chances are, they've come to care about Jacob Portman and his friends.

The audiobooks have been narrated by Kirby Heyborne, who performs an impressive array of voices and imbues energy and emotion into the tale. 

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega. 256 p. Scholastic, April, 2020. 9781338280128. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.

Happy Monday! There are just four Middle Grade Monday posts left in this school year! I've already added a sheet for summer through the next school year. 

Middle Grade Monday features Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega. Twelve-year-old Lucely Luna is not afraid of ghosts. Not only does her father run a ghost tour business, but she lives with them. Her extended family dwell in the willow tree in her backyard as fireflies or cocuyos. Sometimes they manifest in their human form. When the spirit of her grandmother dims, she and her best friend, Syd perform a spell to revive her. They accidentally unleash evil spirits, who threaten their town of St. Augustine, Florida.

This action-packed story is filled with humor, best friendship and suspense as our adorable tween ghostbusters try to kick some serious spirit butt. Ghost Squad is the author's debut and will appeal to middle grade readers who like horror that's just scary enough to thrill.

Picture Book Review: The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen


The Rock from the Sky by Jon Klassen. 96 p. Candlewick Press, April, 2021. 9781536215625. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

This extra-long picture book is told in five chapters and is as darkly humorous and delightfully deadpan as we have come to expect from Mr. Klassen. Turtle is standing in his "favorite spot" and invites Armadillo(?) to stand with him*. Armadillo has a bad feeling about the spot and moves to a different spot. Only, it's a bit difficult to carry on a conversation with Turtle from the long distance. Turtle leaves his spot in order to hear Armadillo just before the rock falls.

Chapter two is called, "The Fall," and shows Turtle on his back under the rock. Armadillo asks if he fell. Stubborn Turtle insists he did not, that he doesn't need help and he certainly does not wish to take a nap, as Armadillo plans to do.

In the third chapter, Turtle and Armadillo contemplate the future complete with a forest that has grown up around the rock and a space alien. Chapter four might be the most hilarious as Snake and Armadillo enjoy a sunset and in the final chapter, Turtle gets jealous. 

The artist's signature muted palette and bleak and dreary landscape allow the reader to focus on the characters and anticipate what is about to come next and also allow the character's eyes to pop. Much of the dry humor comes from the eyes. 

The book begs to be reread immediately, not just because it is still hilarious the second (and third) time around, but to savor the depth of storytelling and to ponder the enigmas. I know. This is heady stuff for young ones, but never underestimate them. This is definitely a picture book to share with older readers as well. 

The Rock from the Sky is a first-purchase. 

*I don't know why I choose to make these characters him. I tried using "it," but that didn't feel right. 

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Fact Friday and Picture Book Review: Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use by Richard Haynes

Orangutan Hats and Other Tools Animals Use
by Richard Haynes. Illustrated by Stephanie Laberis. 48 p. Candlewick Press, April, 2021. 9781536200935. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

The front flap of this informative picture book declares, "Move over, humans!" Our species is not the only one to utilize tools to improve life. Thanks to careful observations by scientists working in the field, we now understand that a variety of animals employ tools. 

The introduction defines what a tool is and explains the age old belief that only humans were intelligent. That is, until Charles Darwin noted tool use among primates while on his voyages in the 1800s. Twenty animals from around the world are highlighted in this well-organized book, which begins with a world map and thumbnail illustrations of each animal. The information is organized by what the tool is used for-tools for staying neat and clean-for health and healing-for defense-for hunting, harvesting and eating-for comfort-and joy!

Straightforward, accessible text details how the animals adapt materials at hand to protect or make life a bit easier. The digital full-page and spot art illustrations are realistically drawn, but also contain bits of humor. Back matter includes a glossary, suggestions for further reading and an index. 

There are plenty of fascinating tidbits for fact hounds to feast on here! Be ready to steer readers to titles such as The Dolphins of  Shark Bay or Crow Smarts by Pamela S. Turner to read more about how scientists study the intelligence of these incredible animals. What a fun addition to any library!

#tbt: 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass

11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. 272 p. Willow Falls series #1. Scholastic Inc., January, 2009. 9780545052399. (Own)

#tbt features 11 Birthdays by Wendy Mass. This entertaining time-loop story is a TMS favorite and was published in January of 2009. It is the first book in the Willow Falls series and has won a number of State books awards.

Amanda and Leo were born on the same day and, for the first ten years of their lives, celebrated their birthdays happily together. But on her tenth birthday Amanda overhears Leo saying terrible things about her. Her eleventh birthday party does not go well and she goes to bed sad and disappointed. When she wakes up the following morning, she finds it's still her eleventh birthday and gets to do the day again.

This Groundhog Day for kids is an entertaining story featuring a relatable main character and a great deal of humor and affection. The following books in the series feature other main characters who live in the town of Willow Falls. 

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: Spy School at Sea by Stuart Gibbs

Happy Wednesday! For some reason, I woke up yesterday and today thinking it was Friday! Wishful thinking? 29 school days left!

Spy School at Sea by Stuart Gibbs. Spy School #9. 352 p. Simon 7 Schuster Books for Young Readers, August 31, 2021. 9781534479432.

Waiting on Wednesday features Spy School at Sea by Stuart Gibbs. This series shows no sign of slowing down as the ninth book is set to sail into book stores on August 31!

Here's the publisher's synopsis: Thanks to the evidence Ben uncovered in his investigation of the Croatoan, the CIA has tracked his nemesis, Murray Hill, to Central America, where they believe he is boarding the world’s biggest cruise ship, The Emperor of the Seas, on its maiden voyage around the world.

His mission: Pose as part of a family, with Alexander and Catherine Hale as his parents, Erica as his sister, and his best friend Mike as his brother, to find out what Murray is plotting.

At first, it sounds exciting to have a mission on the most glamorous ocean liner on earth, but as usual, nothing goes according to plan. There is action, danger, and plenty of surprises as Ben and his team quickly find themselves in hot water.

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: Super-Fake Love Song by David Yoon

Super-Fake Love Song by David Yoon. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~8 hours. Narrated by Michael Bow. Listening Library, November, 2020. 9780593288030. (Review of e-audiobook borrowed from public library.)

Happy Tuesday! 30 more school days! I am definitely counting. This has been quite the school year-difficult on everyone from parents to children, teachers and administrators. I don't know how back to normal we will be in September or what my library or position will look like, so fingers crossed. Until early last month, I was teaching the fifth and sixth grade hybrid students language arts on their virtual days. Now that the hybrid students are back every day, I'm in two classes as support and have some time in the library. Unfortunately, there's a class in the library and the configuration of desks and storage of library furniture make it difficult to get at all the books. I'm trying to circulate as much as possible though. 

Teen Tuesday features Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon. This is Mr. Yoon's sophomore novel. His debut, Frankly in Love, made quite a splash several years ago. It was a New York Times Bestseller and a Morris Award Finalist among other awards and accolades.

Sunny Dae is an unapologetic nerd. He and his two best friends are really into rpgs and even have a following on their YouTube channel where they offer tips on DIY cosplay costumes and props. Sunny's older brother, Gray, used to nerd out with him. That is, until he turned cool and started playing in bands. 

When the daughter of his parents friends is about to start school in town, Sunny is enlisted to show Cirrus around. Sunny falls for the beautiful, confident and cool Cirrus, but how could she find his cosplaying ways cool? When she mistakenly takes Grey's super-cool, rock musician's bedroom for Sunny's, he decides to go with it and says that he's in a band. That's sure to work out, right?

Sunny is smart and hilarious and he has two of the best friends in the world. There are some truly laugh-out-loud rom-com moments in this book juxtaposed with sometimes biting, sometimes poignant observations about family, brotherhood, friendship, life in high school and first love.

New-to-me narrator Mr. Bow did a fantastic job making Sunny adorable. While there is a lot to like here, this happens to be the second YA romance built around a lie I have read recently. This would be an absolute deal breaker for me, even at 18. I'm eager to talk with teen readers about this.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Kodi by Jared Cullum

Kodi by Jared Cullum. 176 p. Top Shelf Productions/ IDW Publishing, August, 2020. 9781603094672. (Review of finished paperback borrowed from public library.)

It is quite rare for a book to appeal to both avid and reluctant readers, but this gorgeous graphic novel does just that and I can't wait for my students to meet Katya and Kodi. 

Katya is a comics-loving loner who is bullied mercilessly at school. She's staying with her motorcycle-riding Meema in the Alaskan wilderness. Her Meema wants her to get out and meet new friends. Katya just wants to stay in the cabin and read. She's forced to trek into town though, where she purchases a slushy drink and snacks. A sudden storm causes her to rush back home and along the way, she encounters a huge bear who is interested in her slushy. They're both startled by a huge clap of thunder and the bear becomes pinned by a fallen tree. Katya comforts the bear and races home for help when she finds she can't lift the tree. A reluctant Meema pulls the tree off the bear with rope and her trusty motorcycle, then tends to its wounds. Katya names him Kodi and feeds him salmon while he heals. Once he's back on his feet, the two enjoy spending time together in the woods. 

When Katya needs to leave suddenly to return to Seattle, she leaves Kodi with a photo and a painting of the Needle. Kodi is bereft and treks each day to the docks in search of Katya. One day, a ship docks for the day from Seattle and Kodi stows away. Nothing will keep him from finding Katya, who, in the meanwhile is perfectly miserable at school.

Though the premise is a bit unbelievable, every second is utterly believable thanks to the author/ artist's nuanced, immersive and gorgeous water color panels. The book also gets better with each rereading as the reader notes new details. There were a couple of unanswered questions though-like where are the parents? And, why is Katya so terrified of water? GoodReads labelled this book #1. Here's hoping those questions are answered in book #2.

I just adore this book and look forward to getting it into my students' hands. 

Thursday, May 6, 2021

#tbt: Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri


Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri. 218 p. Candlewick Press, August, 2011. 9780763649227. (Own)

#tbt features Ghetto Cowboy by G. Neri. This book is the reason why I'm so excited for the release of Polo Cowboy (see yesterday's post). Seventh grader, Cole is heading down the wrong path fast and his single mom has had it. She packs a bag, loads Cole into her car and heads out of Detroit fast. She dumps him in Philadelphia to live with his dad, whom he has never met. He doesn't know what to expect of his dad or of the mean streets of Philadelphia. He certainly doesn't expect horses. Harp, his dad is a cowboy. A Black cowboy? In the middle of a city?

Mr. Neri was inspired by an article in Life magazine about the cowboys of Philadelphia. While Cole's story is fiction. The stables on Fletcher Street really exist and their existence is continually threatened by developers. The novel is short, illustrated and instantly engaging.

Ghetto Cowboy was published in 2011 and won quite a few State Book Awards. It was adapted for film and renamed Concrete Cowboy. It was recently released on Netflix. In the film adaptation, Cole was aged up and other changes were made, but the story of the stables and the father/ son relationship remain at the heart of the film.

Polo Cowboy releases in October. There's plenty of time to pick up Ghetto Cowboy. Happy reading!

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Picture Book Review: Free by Sam Usher

Free by Sam Usher. 40 p. templar books/ Candlewick Press, April, 2021. 9781536217049. (Review of finished copy courtesy of publisher.)

I have always loved books that focus on grandparent/ grandchild relationships-even more so now that I've become a grandparent. Sam Usher's Seasons with Grandad series (Snow, Rain, Sun, Storm) has company with this new series starter. 

In Free, our favorite ginger-haired boy (Has he grown a bit?) awakens to find a sick bird on his windowsill. He has been studying birds, as evidenced by the bird books and binoculars on his bed and the bird feeder outside his window. He runs to his granddad demanding to help the bird.* They make a cozy bed, consult some books and give him some water. When the bird perks up, Granddad suggests they put the bird back outside. The boy doesn't want to but Granddad gently insists. The two think "that's that," but the bird has other ideas. It shows up for breakfast, lunch and tea. That's when Granddad decides that the two need to lead the bird back home. And so they do. It is here where the fantastical Mr. Usher imbues in all these books begins. Oh, what an adventure! 

The pen, ink and watercolor spreads charm with warmth and intimate details. Please don't skip the end pages and title page! The story is sure to prompt wonderful discussions with young readers. I can't wait to see what other adventures await the pair in this endearing new series. Don't miss it!

*Just this morning, a movement on the roof of my husband's Jeep caught my eye as I took Boo out for a walk before heading to work. It was a female cardinal and I thought it a curious place for a bird to alight. Then a movement on the ground caught my eye and it was a baby! I looked up to look for a nest in the tree overhanging my driveway, but saw nothing. I puzzled over the problem on our walk, but both birds were nowhere to be seen upon our return. I suppose mama coaxed her baby into a safer spot. Thank goodness. 

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Waiting on Wednesday: Polo Cowboy by G. Neri

Polo Cowboy by G. Neri. Illustrated by Jesse Joshua Watson. 288 p. Candlewick Press, October 12, 2021. 9781536207118.

Publisher synopsis: How does a Black kid from North Philly wind up playing polo? The much-anticipated sequel to Ghetto Cowboy, now a major motion picture starring Idris Elba and Stranger Things’s Caleb McLaughlin.

When Cole moves in with his dad, Harp, he thinks life will be sweet—just him and his horse, Boo, hanging out with Philadelphia’s urban cowboys. But when Harp says he has to get a job, Cole winds up as a stable hand for the polo team at George Washington Military Academy, where the players are rich, white, and stuck-up—all except Ruthie, the team’s first and only girl, who’s determined to show the others she can beat them at their own game. As Cole and Ruthie become friends—and maybe more—he starts imagining his future, maybe even at the academy. But between long workdays, arrogant polo players, and a cousin trying to pull Cole into his dangerous business, that future seems remote. Will Cole find the courage to stand and be seen in a world determined to keep him out? With striking illustrations by Jesse Joshua Watson, celebrated author G. Neri’s novel weaves themes of tenacity and community into a rousing sports story inspired by Philadelphia's real -life urban cowboys and polo players.

Teen Tuesday and Audiobook Review: The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz with Tiffany D. Jackson

Image: Macmillan

The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson. Unabridged e-audiobook, ~7 hours, 54 minutes. Read by Landon Woodson. Macmillan Young Listeners, January, 2021. 9781250619105. (Review of e-audiobook downloaded from public library.)

Teen Tuesday features The Awakening of Malcolm X by Ilyasah Shabazz and Tiffany D. Jackson. This fictionalized biography of the author's father, Malcolm X, covers his young adult life from about the age of 18 through his 20s. Ms. Shabazz, Malcolm X's youngest daughter, wrote a novel about his early life in X: a Novel along with Kekla Magoon in 2015. She went on to write a fictionalized biography of her mother, Betty Before X in 2018. Teen readers who are interested in the life of the Civil Rights activist, but not ready to tackle his autobiography would do well to start here.

In The Awakening of Malcolm X, Malcolm Little and his friend are framed in a robbery investigation by the white woman Malcolm was dating. While she planned all the robberies, when the three were caught, she claimed that Malcolm forced her to, earning Malcolm and his friend hard time in prison.

This first-person narrative pulls no punches. Life in Charlestown Prison was brutal. Malcolm was angry and not always cooperative with the racist system. He ended up in solitary confinement more than once, but he was smart and his family were supportive. His brothers and sisters tried to visit regularly. It was through his brothers that he discovered Islam and was eventually transferred to another prison where prisoners were treated better and education was encouraged. By the time he left prison, he had devoted his life to Islam and became Malcolm X.

New-to-me narrator Landon Woodson delivered an emotionally gripping performance. I am really hoping for more books from Ms. Shabazz about her complex and brilliant father. 

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Middle Grade Monday: Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan

Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan. 240 p. Graphix/ Scholastic Inc. April, 2020. 978133538199. (Purchased.)

Happy Monday! I hope you had a wonderful weekend! Mine went fast. I did some garden clean-up (not enough), a lot of walking with Boo (18 miles) and a fair amount of reading(4 books).

Middle Grade Monday features Nat Enough by Maria Scrivan. This gentle graphic novel is shy Natalie's sketchbook. As summer ends and middle school approaches, she has some worries. Her BFF Lily moved across town and she has seen very little of her over the summer. Any calls or texts Natalie sends are answered with excuses why the two can't get together. On the eve of the first day of school, Nat's got radio silence. She spies Lily heading to school with another girl, who looks super-cool and stylish. Nat's locker is close to Lily, but Lily rebuffs her attempts at friendship. Lily's rejection reinforces Natalie's feelings of not being enough - not cute enough, not smart enough or not athletic enough.

The terrain of fractured friendship and navigating new school situations should be familiar to most tweens. Natalie is endearingly underconfident and relatable. The author/ artist captured the drama and dialog of middle school well. The peppy palette and energetic panels keep the story moving. Fans of Shannon Hale and Raina Telgemeier will be happy to include Natalie. I know this one won't sit and am looking forward to reading Forget Me Nat and Absolutely Nat.