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As a lover of children's literature, mother and bookseller of 13 years, I want to put good books into kid's hands. I share my philosophy on what makes a book good as well as book reviews and lists of great books for every reading taste and ability with a focus on new readers. I also highlight some wonderful books that are not always on the shelf at bookstores, but might be at your library and can definitely be ordered. All books mentioned are available in paperback unless noted.
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1. Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks by Skila Brown, illustrated by Bob Kolar



One thing that still surprises me is how much little kids are fascinated by sharks. Shark books in my library are always checked out - even more so than dinosaur books. In light of this, I am truly surprised that Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks written by Skila Brown and illustrated by Bob Kolar is the first book of its kind I have encountered. Happily, Slickety Quick: Poems About Sharks is a treat to read, both for Brown's playfully informative shape poems and for Kolar's colorful, watery illustrations that handsomely capture the (often beautiful) subjects. I don't usually include so many illustrations from a book in a review, but Brown's range of shark subjects and Kolar's illustrations are so fantastic, I wanted to give you a really good idea of all that Slickety Quick has to offer.





Wisely, and with a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, Brown kicks off Slickety Quick with a poem about the great white shark - in the shape of that distinctive fin.  Thirteen species and their poems, along with brief facts, follow and their variety might surprise you.








Brown's poems are as dramatic as her subjects and very fun to read out loud, especially the poem about the hammerhead shark for two voices, above. The pages of Slickety Quick are so fun to pore over and readers are sure to learn about sharks without even realizing it!






On his website Kolar mentioned that he loves creating the end pages of his books and this is where I realized I had reviewed a book illustrated by Kolar back in 2011 and, tickled by the end pages, I included them in my review of Nothing Like a Puffin by Sue Soltis. And, I also realized that I had reviewed Skila Brown's unforgettable debut novel in 2014! A verse novel set in Guatemala in 1981, Caminar tells the story of a young boy caught between the military government and guerillas fighting against it.



Nothing Like a Puffin




Caminar



Source: Review Copy

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2. Tell Me a Tattoo Story by Alison McGhee, illustrated by Eliza Wheeler




It was bound to happen, with the prevalence of tattooed folks in America these days. Tell Me a Tattoo Story, thoughtfully written by Alison McGhee and gently, lovingly illustrated by Eliza Wheeler is a sweet story that, based on the many tattoos I have seen on people in my community and on the internet and in magazines, is an idealization of this current cultural trend. Tell Me a Tattoo story posits that there is intention, thought and meaning behind a father's tattoos, which I am sure is the case in many instances. That said, I have a hard time reading this book and not thinking about some of the tattoos I have seen, tattoos that shouldn't be seen by kids or explained to them...


The plot of Tell Me a Tattoo Story revolves around a father telling his son the impetus behind his tattoos. From a dragon to remind him of the book his mother used to read over and over to him (not mentioned by name, but the illustration makes it clear it is The Hobbit) to words his father often said to him, to memories of falling in love with his wife, he explains his ink to his young son. 





McGhee's words sometimes tell a different story from Wheeler's illustrations. A tattoo on his stomach marks the "longest trip" he ever took. A page turn reveals the father in army gear, marching with his troop across a desert, gazing a photo of his wife in his hand, his "Be Kind" tattoo showing on his arm. Dad also has a tattoo over his heart, showing the birthdate of his son. The whole text is told in the father's voice, with him answering questions asked by the son that do not appear on the page. It can feel odd at times, but I think it was a smart choice on McGhee's part. It keeps Tell Me a Tattoo Story from being too cheeky or winky, although it teeters on the border of hipsterdom. As someone who believes that there is a book for everything that comes up in life, I wholeheartedly support Tell Me a Tattoo Story

Source: Reveiw Copy



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3. The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, 232 pp, RL 4


Faith Erin Hicks is the author and co-author of two of my favorite YA graphic novels, Friends with Boys and Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong and now the superb first book in a trilogy, The Nameless City. The Nameless City has the feel of the animated series The Legend of Korra, the spinoff of Avatar: The Last Airbender, both of which I love, and both of which are and will soon be graphic novel series.


The world of The Nameless City is an ancient one with a vaguely Asian/Egyptian feel to it and her geography is brilliant. The Nameless City sits at the mouth of a great mountain pass where a massive arch has been carved out of the stone, allowing the the River of Lives to reach the sea. On one side of the pass are the Liao and Yisun nations, on the other, the Diao. Because of its location, the Nameless City is forever being invaded by one nation after another, who then changws the name. Eventually it comes to be called the Nameless City by everyone - except the natives, who are referred to as the Named.



Kaidu is from the Dao nation, one of many Dao children sent to the Nameless City to train to be part of military behind the safety of the palace walls. Once there, Kai meets his father, General Andren, for the first time. Andren takes Kai on a walk through the Nameless City, outside the safety of the palace walls, and Kai is clearly shaken by the poverty and homelessness he sees. But, it's also where he first sees Rat, a Named girl who has the remarkable skill of being able to fly across the tops of the tiled roofs of the city and perform a sort of ancient parkour.




Enemies at first, Kai and Rat forge a wary friendship that I think will lead to great changes for all over the course of the trilogy. There are themes of conquest and colonialism that make Rat and Kai's friendship all the more fascinating. The Nameless City, while a long and rich graphic novel, also leaves you feeling like you are just getting to know this ancient place. I can't wait for the second book in the series, The Stone Heart, which, in an interview with the L. A. Times, Hicks promises will be bonkers!



Also by Faith Erin Hicks!


Friends with Boys

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Source: Review Copy

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4. Mosnter & Son by David LaRochelle, illustrated by Joey Chou


Monster & Son, written by David LaRochelle and marvelously illustrated by Joey Chou, is a treat to read. LaRochelle's sweet rhyming text suggests the rowdy playfulness between father and son while Chou's illustrations evoke the midcentury work of Mary Blair, in influential artist with Walt Disney who left her imprint on everything from movies like Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan to the character designs for the Disneyland ride, It's a Small World. Together, a parade of movie-monster father and son cryptids cavort across the pages of Monster & Son.




Monster & Son begins, "You woke me with a monstrous roar, my brave and fearless son." The San Francisco Bay becomes the playground for a frolicking little monster plucking busses and cars off the Golden Gate Bridge. A day filled with "rough and rowdy fun" unfolds as fathers and sons, from Loch Ness Monsters to Frankensteins, Swamp Creatures, Yetis, Sasquatches, dragons, werewolves, mummys and more have fun together. LaRochelle's rhymes are perfectly pitched  and, while he uses words that work with the monster theme, they are perfectly suited to human fathers and sons. 




Monster & Son nears and end with King Kong cuddling his yawning son, helicopter and shrieking pilot in his hand, saying, "Your fearsome yawns won't frighten me. I'll hug you strong and tight." Dracula kisses his son goodnight, ending with these words, "then gently tuck you into bed while whispering . . . good night."




Monster & Son makes for a perfect Father's Day or baby shower gift that will be read over and over.

Source: Review Copy


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5. Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo, 263 pp, RL 4


As a two time Newbery Medal winner, Newbery Honor winner and National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, a new book from Kate Di Camillo is a big deal, especially one like Raymie Nightingale. DiCamillo's books span a range of reading levels, from easy readers like Bink & Gollie and Mercy Watson to more nuanced novels like The Tale of Despereaux and Because of Winn Dixie. Whatever the reading level or subject of a book, you can always count on Di Camillo's distinctive eccentricity, sort of a Southern Gothic for kids. 

Raymie Nightingale is set in 1975 in a small town in Central Florida. Di Camillo creates a world you can almost feel and smell, where the searing summer sun heats the sidewalks so that they are still warm at five in the morning and a blinding glare comes off Lake Clara, named after a woman who may or may not have drowned herself there while waiting for her husband to return from the Civil War. A third person narrator lets us see into the mind and heart of ten year old Raymie Clark, who has just suffered a great tragedy. Two days before the story begins, her father "had run away from home with a woman who was a dental hygienist," leaving Raymie with a sharp pain shooting through her heart every time she considers it. I think my favorite thing about Raymie Nightingale and the character of Raymie herself is the way that she experiences and describes her emotions. As a child, I know I had no idea that the physical sensations I felt in my body might be connected to emotions I was experiencing, and have Raymie as a guide would have been invaluable. Di Camillo quickly switches from locating feelings in Raymie's heart to finding them in her soul. Sometimes she feels like her soul is shriveling, other times, it feels like it is "filling up - becoming larger, brighter, more certain," almost like a tent. 

Raymie has a plan to get her father to notice her and return home. She is going to win the Little Miss Central Florida Tire competition and get her picture in the newspaper. But first, upon the advice of his secretary, she has to learn to twirl a baton from local champion, Miss Ida Nee. Beverly Tapinksi and Louisiana Elefante are also taking lessons from Miss Ida Nee in order to ensure a win in the Little Miss Florida Tire competition. Beverly wants to sabotage the contest for reasons of her own and Louisiana wants the $1,975 prize money so that she and her grandmother can stop stealing canned food from the Tag and Bag. While never learning to twirl, the three girls do find themselves forming a quick and close bond as they are thrown into, or walk into, a series of curious, quasi-dangerous events. From an attempt to do a good deed at a nursing home that ends with a hair raising fright, to jimmying a lock and stealing a baton from a room covered, floor, walls and ceiling, in green shag carpet, to a midnight rescue and a shopping cart ride that ends in a pond that once was a sinkhole, the girls each have the chance to come to the rescue in unexpected ways.

As an adult reading Raymie Nightingale, the true gift of this novel and Di Camillo's writing is her ability to concisely and gently convey that period of childhood when you start to take notice of the ways of the adults around you and also feel like you might have some amount of control over your own life and your ability to steer the ship. Like most kids, Raymie might be able to see the adult world but she doesn't really understand how it works or how to work with it. And, while her attempts might fall short or flat out fail, Raymie has Beverly and Louisiana by her side and they will always be the Three Rancheros.


Souce: Review Copy

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6. Soon by Timothy Knapman, illustrated by Patrick Benson




Soon by Timothy Knapman, marvelously illustrated by Patrick Benson is my new favorite book to read out loud and to myself. Sadly, this fine picture book sat on my shelf for a year before I got around to reading it and reviewing it. I knew that Soon had to be a great book - a mother and baby elephant, the word "soon" and Patrick Benson's gentle illustrations, but I didn't know how truly great Soon is until I read it to a class of first graders. Before I began reading, I asked them if they knew how many minutes are in "soon." The answers were hilarious. The pacing and plot of Soon are ideal for reading out loud. Soon can be a quiet book and a loud book and the suspense is perfectly balanced, keeping even the wiggliest listener still and focused on the story. I can't believe that I lost a whole year of reading Soon out loud, but now that I have found it, Soon will be a story time staple in my library and a book I give as a gift often.


Soon begins on the endpapers. It is just before dawn and in the early grey light, a mother and baby elephant can be seen walking toward the hills in the distance. They have set out on a great adventure. It is cold and dark and they walk for a long time with little Raju asking, "When can we go home again?" and his mother answering, "Soon." This is a question and answer that is repeated over and over: as they try to pass quietly by the sleeping crocodiles, the slithering snake and the prowling tiger. Each danger brings a powerful response from Raju's mother, and this is where the story can get loud - if you want it to. Finally, the pair come to a mountain and Raju's mother tells him to hold tight to her tail as they climb to the top.At the top, Raju can see "all his world spread out before him." "It's beautiful, isn't it?" says his mother, to which Raju replies simply, "Yes."



The pair begin the long walk back to their "cozy little home." Raju is tired and his feet hurt and he had never been up so late. But, on the final pages of the book, he says to his mother, "When can we do it all again?" I have no doubt you know his mother's answer. The endpapers show a starry night sky, his mother's trunk resting on Raju's back.



It is such a joy to take listeners on this journey every time I read Soon out loud.


Source: Review Copy


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7. Raybot by Adam F. Watkins



Raybot is Adam F. Watkins's second picture book and his second book featuring robots. The story and text of Raybot don't offer much. But bear in mind that this is my adult opinion. Having read this book out loud to a couple of classes of kindergartners, I can tell you that they all gave Raybot a big thumbs up. That said, Watkins's lavish illustrations come very close to making you forget the weak story. His painterly illustrations are rich with color and depth and his characterization of animals blends a gentle cartoonishness with largely realistic representations that are a delight.

Raybot is a robot who lives all alone in a junkyard. One day he discovers part of an advertisement for a best friend that shows a boy with a bone. The recipient of the bone is a mystery, as the corner of the page has been ripped off, but Raybot knows one thing: the friend who loves bones says, "Bark!" Raybot fashions a metal bone them heads off into the world looking for the creature that says, "Bark!"


As you might guess from the lovely back cover illustration, Raybot travels the world looking for this friend. His journey ends when he meets a parrot who answers Raybot's "Bark?" with a "BARK!" Even better, this parrot seems to have a friend of his own, a puppy. Raybot ends with a trite realization about friends coming in all shapes and sizes, the trio walking home together.




Robot lovers should not miss 
Watkins's debut picture book:




Source: Review Copy


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8. Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell, illustrated by Bob Shea


Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell and illustrated by Bob Shea is a fantastic new book that is a perfect introduction to haiku for older readers and a wonderful book of poetry (and guessing game) for little listeners. I love haiku, but the often abstract nature of the poems can make teaching it to kids - as well as getting them to appreciate it - a challenge. The format of Caswell's book makes grabbing and keeping reader's interest easy. And, while Guess Who, Haiku is intended for toddler aged readers, her word choice is richly descriptive and varied, again, making this book a superb teaching tool.



The format of the book, as seen above, lets readers guess the subject of the haiku, always prompted by the sentence, "Can you guess who from her/his haiku?" A page turn reveals the subject of the poem with a jaunty illustration from Shea, who's bright, Easter egg palette and happy faces will definitely delight little listeners. After the first poem, following haikus are introduced by the subject of the previous poem, as such:

This bird has a haiku just for you.

from a lily pad
keen eyes spy a careless fly
a sticky tongue - SNAP!

Can you guess who from her haiku?




Guess Who, Haiku is so fun to read out loud. Caswell includes a final page about the structure of haiku that is easy to grasp. If you read Guess Who, Haiku with older children, be sure to have a paper and pen nearby as I have no doubt they will want to try writing their own haiku!

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9. Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths by Marilyn Singer, illustrated by Josée Masse



Echo Echo: Reverso Poems about Greek Myths is the third book of this kind by Marilyn Singer and "target="_blank">Josée Masse, and the first I've read. I had heard of her first two books of reverso poems, Mirror Mirror and Follow Follow, especially because the subject is fairy tales, but I am happy to start with Echo Echo since Greek myths are just as engaging! Like fairy tales, themes in Greek myths are often black and white, good and bad, making them perfect candidates for a reverso poem.

But first, what is a reverso poem? When done well, it's a brilliant thing to behold, and Singer does reverso very well. Taking two characters, usually opposites, or sometimes telling two sides of one story, a poem is composed that, when read from top to bottom, shares one perspective and, when read from bottom to top (sometimes with a few changes of punctuation or capitalization) tells a different story. 



Icarus and Daedalus is a perfect example. An especially nice feature of this fantastic book is a text box at the bottom of each page that briefly and succinctly summarizes the myth in the poem. Icarus speaks first, describing the wonder of flight, ending with these apt words, "I know  / why / we burn to fly!" Reversing the poem, Daedalus begins his narrative with, "We burn to fly / why / I know / the glory of soaring." It's stunning the way that Singer can put the same words in the mouths of two different characters and have them come out so different. In Icarus's poem, you can feel the excitement and amazement at flying so high, so close to the sun. In Daedalus's poem you can hear a father's caution and wisdom. You will find yourself reading these poems over and over, wondering at the ways they are the same and different.

Pandora and her box


Arachne and Athena

If you are like me, you will be so surprised and intrigued by Singer's poems that you may not give Masse's illustrations the attention they deserve. However, if you linger over them, you will notice that Masse's illustrations embody the reverso theme as well. I have a growing number of students enthralled by Greek mythology and I can't wait to get Echo Echo into their hands, especially because, as English language learners, the straight forward presentation of the classic stories will make it more immediately graspable for them.


Singer & Masse's other books of 
reverso poems!




Source: Review Copy


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10. Old MacDonald Had a Truck by Steve Goetz, illustrated by Eda Kaban



Maybe because I am the mother of two boys, but, more likely because I loved Richard Scarry's Cars and Trucks and Things That Go as a child, I always love a good picture book with trucks and trains, of all kinds. And Old MacDonald Had a Truck by debut Steve Goetz, perfectly, marvelously illustrated by Eda Kaban, is a VERY good truck book. In fact, it's the kind of book that, after reading, will make you smack yourself on the forehead and wonder why you didn't think of this idea.


First of all, Kaban's endpapers show a fantastic assortment of tools that will grab any little truck lover's interest right away. Old MacDonald Had a Truck begins with a grey haired couple driving down a dirt road in a big, old truck. As they pull into the farmyard, we see that the animals are abuzz with activity. Tools are out, hard hats are on and something is definitely going on.


As the song/story unfolds, page turns reveal that Old MacDonald has TRUCKS and not animals on his/her farm. I read this out loud, for the very first time, to a class of kindergartners and their delight at the first page turn was palpable. They would have been completely happy for Old MacDonald to have a cow, but when they discovered he had an excavator, well, that was awesome. In fact, they loved it so much that we read it two times in a row.


Another awesome aspect of Old MacDonald Had a Truck are the movements that replace the animal sounds. Instead of quacking and mooing here and there, readers and listeners get to DIG DIG, PUUUSH PUSH and SPIN WHIRL, all of which lend themselves to great hand gestures. And, as happened to me, you may get so caught up in the rhythm of the story/song that you don't notice or forget that, instead of "E-I-E-I-O" as a refrain, Goetz changes it to match the purpose of each truck. So, as above, the bulldozer goes, "E-I-E-I-MOW," and so on, adding to the fun.


Steve Goetz was inspired to write this wonderful book by his son, who, while singing the classic song one day changed the lyrics so that Old MacDonald had a monster truck on his farm. Tweaking the song, Goezt brings it home by the end of Old MacDonald Had a Truck when it becomes clear that the construction equipment has been used to create a monster truck arena, complete with bleachers for the farm animals (who have foam fingers, popcorn and cotton candy) and the old red truck from the first page has been retooled into a monster truck. As if this whole scenario couldn't get any better, the refurbished monster truck, zooming off a jump, is driven by Mrs. Old MacDonald, a laughing Mr. Old MacDonald in the passenger seat!



Cool, fun, catchy and clever in all the best ways, Old MacDonald Had a Truck is such a fun book that is a joy to read!

Source: Review Copy

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11. The Only Child by Guojing, 112 pp, RL: ALL AGES



The gorgeously rich illustrations, magic filled setting and wordless story of The Only Child by Guojing reminded me immediately of The Arrival by Shaun Tan. While Tan's book always feels deeply rooted in our world and the immigrant experience, despite the magical creatures and moments, Guojing's book beings in a foreign but familiar feeling city then flies off to a magic filled world of wonderful creatures and billowy clouds.

The Only Child begins with an author's note that frames the story perfectly. Guojing writes of growing up in China in the 1980s under the one-child policy. Her graphic novel grew out of a childhood experience that was common for children her age, which she refers to as a "very lonely generation." Put on a bus to her grandmother's as a six year old, Guojing fell asleep and woke up lost, crying and walking as she tried to find her way home. The Only Child begins with a cheerfully rumpled little girl waking in the morning just as her mother is leaving for work. A series of panels show her entertaining herself for a while, then looking at pictures in her scrapbook. A picture of her grandmother inspires her and she gets dressed, combs her hair, leaves a note and packs a tiny purse before heading out into the snowy, industrial, crowded city.



Guojing's illustrations of the city, the factories in the distance, the small houses, the tall apartment buildings, lumberyards, shops and the many electric bus lines are compelling, especially when viewed in the slightly grim sepia and grey tones of of the graphic novel.


The little girl falls asleep on the bus and wakes to a quiet, snowy forest. She begins to make her way through the forest, crying as she moves forward, until she sees a stag. Something about the beast encourages her to follow and soon she finds herself grabbing the horn of the stag and pulling herself onto its back. The two ascend a stairway of clouds to a pillowy land filled with play and exploration.


The pair find a new friend that looks a bit like a white otter crossed with a baby polar bear as well as an enormous, cloud surfing whale. These scenes create a quiet, ethereal world that is easy to sink into as you explore page after page, sunk in the atmosphere. It's even more amazing when you consider the limited palette that Guojing uses to evoke this blissful time. While fear, sadness and loneliness are part of the story, they feel far away for most of it. And the girl's return to her parents is, or course, a joyous one.

Describing it here, The Only Child sounds like a simple story, and in many ways it is. The unforgettable beauty of Guojing's book is everything she creates within the bounds of this simple story - the feelings she evokes, the memories, the warmth and the connection are anything but simple.

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12. The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox, 400 pp, RL 4


The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox has a fantastic set up for either a work of historical fiction or a fantasy novel. Intriguingly, it is both! Katherine, Robbie and Amelie Bateson live in London with their parents and their Great-Aunt Margaret. As the bombing of the city increases, the Batesons take the first good opportunity to get their children to safety. In this case, it is Rookskill Castle in remote Scotland. The owner of the castle is Aunt Margaret's cousin, Gregor, the eleventh Earl of Craig. Recently married, the Earl is in need of money and also has recently taken ill. His new wife has converted the castle into a boarding school for a small number of evacuees. But, from the moment they arrive, Kat knows that there is something very wrong at Rookskill Castle.

While there are murmurs of a German spy hiding somewhere in the castle early on in the novel, another, more compelling story unfolds, starting in 1746. Lenore is the lady of Rookskill Castle but, unable to produce an heir for the lord, she fears for her life. On the edge of the forest in a crumbling hut, a magister offers Lenore hope - a charm for her chatelaine that will produce an heir. Over almost three hundred years, the Lady and her charmed children have existed on the outskirts of the castle grounds, the magister taking a part of the Lady with every new charm and replacing it with a clockwork mechanism that can only be seen in the moonlight. With the twelfth charmed child, the Lady, now called Eleanor, will have a power and security that she has longed for since her grim, painful childhood centuries ago.

Kat, eager to learn her father's trade - clock repair (not spying, as he now works for M16) is a practical child and skeptical of the dubious magic dotty Aunt Margaret promises when she gives Kat her own chatelaine before the children leave for Scotland. But, as Kat and her siblings, along with Peter Williams, an American transplant, suffer confusion, crankiness, and punishments as they get in the way of Lady Eleanor's plans, she begins to believe in the magic her aunt spoke of. With the instructors and staff at the castle under a spell, it is up to Kat to battle the Lady and rescue the souls of her friends and siblings.


I enjoyed this book, but I wished it had been a little bit more, despite being 400 pages long. Reading the blurb for The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle, I was very excited. Yet, it didn't come together quite the way I had hoped it would. Perhaps because I had recently read and been very impressed and moved by The War that Saved My Life (and watched a few too many BBC shows set during the war, like The Bletchly Circle and Land Girls) I expected more from the possible German spy plot, however, from the start, Fox makes it clear that Lady Lenore is looking to fill out her chatelaine and collect enough souls to continue living forever, making the spy subplot less than relevant. In fact, it is almost an aside when, near the end of the story, one of the instructors is revealed to be a German spy. Fox introduces a wireless, a father who is a spy and even an Enigma Machine, but they really don't contribute much to the plot. Neither do the two instructors who, 200 pages into the novel reveal that they are spies working for a special forces unit researching magical artifacts, the occult and paranormal experiences, especially anything that the Nazis might use to gain power.  This plot thread takes a (far) back seat to the story of Lady Lenore, but I think it could have added so much more tension and excitement to the plot. I also think that developing and deepening twelve-year-old Kat's character could have added so much to the story. She is so cookie-cutter, stereotypical at the start - dutiful big sister, dutiful daughter, a little bit of a crush on Peter and she doesn't really change much over the course of the novel, even if she does come to believe in Aunt Margaret's magic. Like the special forces spies who show up half way through the novel, Kat's genius math skills show up and allow her, through the tireless working of algorithms, to break the German code. The elements of The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle are all wonderfully fascinating and together they make for a great story. For me, though, the story telling doesn't live up to the story elements.

Source: Review Copy



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13. Chuck and Woodchuck by Cece Bell


I love Cece Bell's kooky sense of humor, best on display in her Sock Monkey Trilogy. Bell is also a great storyteller, as her fantastic, award winning graphic novel El Deafo proves. With  her newest picture book, Chuck and Woodchuck, bell combines both these gifts for a silly, sweet story of friendship.



It's show and tell and our narrator, Caroline, has brought her grandfather's ukulele to share. Other kids brought a sombrero, a baseball, a tiny pencil and a tadpole to share. Chuck brought a woodchuck, saying only, "This is woodchuck." Woodchuck turns out to be a hoot - and helpful. Especially to Caroline. When Caroline is cold out on the playground one day, Woodchuck gives her a hat to wear. It turns out to be Chuck's, and he will not let Caroline give it back.



This kind of thoughtful, sweet behavior from Woodchuck, along with silence from Chuck, continues. Dropped cupcakes are replaced, paintings are replaced and lines are whispered during the school play as Woodchuck, by way of Chuck, helps out Caroline. Gradually, Chuck finds his voice and he, Caroline and Woodchuck end the book by walking home together, hand in hand.

Chuck and Woodchuck is a gentle story about  a friendship that blossoms with the help of an unforgettable, unexpected middleman. And, of course, Chuck and Woodchuck is a great reason to trot out the classic tongue twister!

Source: Review Copy

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14. little butterfly by Laura Loga




little butterfly by Laura Logan is a little bit of magic. While monarch butterflies, their migratory path and their recent comeback are infinitely fascinating, Logan's book is not about this aspect of these lovely creatures. In the author's note at the end of the book, Logan does touch on the journey of the butterflies, adding this quote from Aesop, "No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted," to give depth to experience of the main character in this wordless picture book. Instead, Logan and her main character, a little girl with a torn cape and an injured butterfly, have an imaginary migration of their own.

This beautiful illustration can be found under the dust jacket!

The palette for little butterfly is limited to oranges, greys and browns and the occasional dash of sky blue and the trim size is small, adding to the delight of the book. Arriving home from school and getting off the bus, the girl's cape snags and tears. As the bus pulls away, the girl abandons her backpack and runs across a field. A cat watches her and a monarch butterfly enters the scene.


Sitting in the grass with her cat, the butterfly flutters near and is injured by the playful cat. Protected by the girl, the butterfly is able to take off again and the girl and her cat curl up under her cape and fall asleep. As the girl sleeps, a flutter of butterflies sweeps over her and carries her away. Over land an sea, past a flock of geese and into a forest where thousands and thousands of butterflies are resting, like the many here in California, including this one in Pismo Beach.









The journey ends with the girl's cape becoming a pair of monarch wings before she is returned to the field where her journey began. The images in little butterfly can be mixed and not always adhering to the logic of the story, but as a wordless picture book, you can make whatever you want of them. It's better to just let the illustrations carry you along on the journey.



Source: Review Copy


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15. The Secrets of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson, 367 pp, RL 4



Two years ago I enthusiastically, excitedly reviewed The Mark of the Dragonfly by Jaleigh Johnson, saying that it was the best fantasy novel I had read in quite a while. I also speculated about a sequel, hoping to learn more about the curious artifacts that arrive in the world of Solace by way of dangerous meteor storms. With The Secrets of Solace, Johnson delivers a novel that, while not a sequel to The Mark of the Dragonfly, is set in the same world and, if possible, even better than the first. And, best of all, The Secrets of Solace is takes place in the Archivists' Strongholds, where the artifacts are taken to be studied and experimented with. In the eight years since I began my blog, and in the fifteen years before that while working as a children's bookseller, I read a lot of middle grade fantasy novels, especially when the genre exploded after the release of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone in 1997. However, I hit a saturation point where, while the books were good and satisfied my love of traveling to other, magical worlds, they did not necessarily stand out or leave a mark on my memory. Johnson's novels stand out and are very memorable. She is a masterful world builder and her stories are seamless. Her characters are compelling, and her main characters are strong, curious, intelligent girls who are good with machines. If you are feeling a little burned out on middle grade fantasy novels, Johnson's books are the perfect palette cleansers.


The main character in The Secrets of Solace is Lina Winterbock, an orphan living in Ortana. Ortana is one of the three archivists' strongholds that abut the Hiterian Mountains, beyond which are uncharted lands. Lina is a junior apprentice to Zara, a teacher and member of the archivists' ruling council. The ruling council has been especially busy lately with the flood of refugees escaping the escalating war between the Merrow Kingdom and the Dragonfly Territories, giving Lina lots of time on her own. Lina thinks of herself as a new breed of archivist, an "explorer archivist." She has spent so much time crawling through the air ducts and tunnels that thread throughout the mountain that she has been able to map them all as well as discover long lost workshops, overhear secrets and more. As Lina says of herself, she has been "hiding and listening for a long time." 

In fact, Lina has discovered a long lost workroom that was partially obscured by one of the frequent cave ins that happen on the mountain. Inside is an aircraft, something that the king of the Dragonfly Territories has been working on creating, something that would allow the inhabitants of Solace to explore uncharted lands. After twisting through the museum-like rooms and moss covered corridors of Ortana, Johnson's story takes off like a rocket when Lina encounters young Prince Ozben, the "spare heir" to the throne of the Merrow Kingdom. Ozben has been secreted away to Ortana and is in hiding from assassins. Together the two work to stay a step ahead of the assassins and the archivists who are growing weary of Lina's mishaps and suspicious of her behavior. Johnson includes an especially magical twist in the form of the aircraft, while also ramping up the dangers and complexities of impending war.

The Secrets of Solace was hard for me to put down, something that happens less frequently than I would like these days. Johnson does something that I especially appreciated in this novel, something that almost never happens in a middle grade fantasy: the hero of the story confesses to an adult who can help. I realize that it makes for good tension, but I often find myself feeling frustrated with characters in fantasy and adventure books who find themselves in deep and, for whatever fabricated (or real-ish) situation, do not turn to an adult for help. I think it is the mark of a truly good writer to be able to craft a plot that allows the main character to turn to an adult for help and continue on with a suspenseful climax to the story, which is exactly what Johnson does in The Secrets of Solace.

Source: Review Copy


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16. The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny by James Kochalka, 128pp, RL 2


The Glorkian Warrior has delivered himself a pizza, had his brains sucked almost dry by a baby alien and discovered the head of a Space Snake that spits out pie. Now, in the third and final book in this series, he and his pals face his biggest challenge ever - a possibly prophetic dream about a giant, flying mustache in The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny!




A post-dream, pre-Glork patrol cup of invigorating coffee that, naturally, GW thinks can talk when it's really Super Backpack, sets the story rolling. Along with a boisterous bunch of mini-Glorks that Gonk has invited in, GW and Super Backpack head out and inevitably end up in a giant hole. But, this giant hole leads to the Temple of Quackaboodle! 



And, in a rare appearance, the Glorkian Supergrandma arrives, beaming down a special light from her spaceship that turns Gonk's little pals into full grown, adult Glorkians! After some minor drama, Gonk gets beamed into adulthood also, now sporting a stunning stache. Kochalka brings everything home by bringing the baby alien, now mustachioed as well, back for a final appearance. The Glorkian Warrior and the Mustache of Destiny begins at chapter zero and ends with an epilogue. But, the book doesn't end there. As the final book in the trilogy, Kochalka shares a hilarious bonus comic and the very first Glorkian Warrior comic from 2007!

Source: Review Copy

Books 1 & 2 of the Glorkian Warrior




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17. Human Body Theater: A Non-Fiction Revue by Maris Wicks, 240 pp, RL 4


Human Body Theater: A Non-Fiction Revue, the new graphic novel by Maris Wicks is a fantastic way to learn a vast amount of information in a very fun format. Wicks is the illustrator of one of my favorite non-fiction graphic novels, Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Birute Galdikas, written by Jim Ottaviani. In eleven acts, a skeleton takes readers through the main systems of the body, beginning with the skeletal system and working up at the excretory system just before intermission. After that, five more systems are visited, from the endocrine system to the reproductive, immune and nervous systems, ending with the five senses. And, as you can see, Wicks's illustrations are fantastic. Crisp and clear, with a bright color palette and images outlined in black, Human Body Theater is a treat to look at that you will find yourself poring over.

After a quick introduction to the hardworking stage hands, the cells, bones then muscles are explored. I'll be honest, I have vague memories of learning about the human body in my high school biology class and it was largely uninteresting and forgettable. However, Wicks's illustrations and presentation are so inviting that I genuinely enjoyed my trip through the human body! I guess giving faces and smiles to things like a cytoplasm, a Gogli body and atoms is just entertaining enough to keep my attention. To illustrate how the heart and the lungs work together to supply the body with oxygen, Wicks brings two, pink oxygen molecules in tutus on stage to dance readers through the process. 



The Blood Bus takes readers through the cardiovascular system and a peanut butter and banana sandwich explains carbohydrates then, with a note of glee exclaims, "But what's really exciting is that I'm going to get eaten!" The scene ends with the natural conclusion. There is a splash in the toilet on stage and the skeleton thanking the sandwich for an "informative performance." There are also brief forays into heartburn, constipation and the fact that stomach aches, constipation, vomiting and diarrhea can be caused by the brain and the benefits of relaxing and removing stress for the whole body.


Human Body Theater very tactfully covers the reproductive system, starting with the endocrine system and hormones. Wicks very tactfully uses descriptions rather than depictions for this scene. While there is a sperm and an egg with faces that talk, along with anatomical images of the sex organs, many readers might not even realize what they are looking at. Menstruation and erections are covered along with other changes that puberty brings, like body odor, pimples, hair growth, voice changing and breast development. The scene ends with pregnancy, birth and infancy. After a romp through the five senses, the skeleton ends the show by putting on some skin, then quickly stepping behind the curtain for some clothes.

In an excellent move, Wicks includes a glossary, with the ASL sign for each letter starting off each section, then a bibliography and suggested reading section!

Besides being a first rate author and illustrator and graphic novelist, Maris Wicks has a background in oceanography and education, having worked at the New England Aquarium where she taught children about marine science. This month she can be found on the R/V Atlantis doing research for the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. This all makes perfect sense because Wicks's next graphic novel, coming later this month, can be seen below!





Source: Review Copy


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18. Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, 224 pp, RL 4



I love it when I find a graphic novel that is as enjoyable as any by Raina Telgemeier, and Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova is right up there, along with Newbery Honor winner Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. Chmakova's illustration style is reminiscent of Japanese manga - her characters have exaggerated expressions that add to the humor and emotions of the story. And her color palette is pale yellows, pinks and blues with occasional pops of darker colors. The plot of Awkward shows good kids making bad choices and working hard to making things right. Above all else, the kids in Awkward are creators - they make, they build, they draw. Chmakova ends her wonderful story with these words, "Cardinal Rule #3 for Surviving School: Build. Build things. Build Friendships. Build yourself. Bit by little bit. It may feel like you're not adding that much . . . but in the end, it will add up to a lot."

But, before we get to those wise words, we need to go back about 200 pages to the beginning. Penelope Torres, known as Peppi, is new at Berrybrook Middle School. Not only does she suffer the humiliation of of tripping in the busy hallway and spilling all her books on her first day, overloaded and embarrassed, she makes a bad choice. Peppi's Cardinal Rule #1 for surviving school, "Don't get noticed by the mean kids."



When a friendly student stops to help Peppi, the mean kids start making fun of both of them and Peppi does the unthinkable. Without thinking, she pushes the nice kid and runs off, then regrets it almost every minute of every day afterward. 


Struggling in science class, but happily making new friends in art class, Peppi gets caught up in school club drama. The art club and the science club have to compete for the last table at the Club Fair. In the middle of all this, Peppi finds herself trying to apologize to Jamie, the nice kid she pushed, who just happens to be in the Science Club.

Chmakova layers lots of great details and characters into Awkward. There is Maribella, the president of the Art Club, who listens to Peppi's ideas but makes a few bad choices of her own that leave Peppi in a tough spot. There is a great field trip scene at the Natural History Museum and a thread that involves geocaching. And, of course, there are the art and science projects and the teachers who lead these clubs - the harried, paper wasting art teacher, Mr. Ramirez and the super-cool science teacher, Miss Tobins. Best of all, Awkward is not a quick read, which means that you have more time to savor it before starting it all over again.

Source: Purchased Copy


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19. Red Ink by Julie Mayhew, 320 pp, RL: TEEN


Actress and playwright Julie Mayhew makes her literary debut with the YA novel Red Ink. Melon Fouraki has grown up in London with a challenging first name, a mother who is only 15 years older than her, as well as thinner and prettier, and a lifetime of stories her mother tells her about growing up and her family back on Crete. Stories about the melon farm where Maria grew up and her love of her family's land; stories of moving to London with her mother when Maria became pregnant as a teenager; stories about sitting on the top deck of the bus to find other Greek speakers in England; of making kollyva, the traditional dish of boiled wheat, for her mother's funeral and of the many Greek superstitions like never writing a letter to a person in red ink unless you wish them death. 

Melon begins narrating her story seventeen days after her mother is hit by a bus and killed. The chapters of Red Ink jump backward and forwards in time, always indicated by days since (her mother's death) tangling the plot in a compelling way that makes Melon's difficult character tolerable. Melon tells the reader and her therapist and social worker, as well as Paul, her mother's fiancé, a social worker just like Maria had been, that she is not grieving and does not miss her mother. At school, Melon lashes out at fake friends and bullies, realizing that Chick, the girl she considered her longtime best friend has no loyalty and no way to connect with Melon in her grief. But, she does "borrow" Chick's credit card to visit a swanky salon and get her long, curly hair chopped off. Melon does not cry at her mother's funeral, which Paul has tried to make as close to a Greek ceremony as possible, although she is surprised by all the people who turn out for it.

It is only when Paul brings home her mother's ashes that Melon begins to cry. As therapy, she has been trying to write down the story of her life, and her mother's life, as often told to her. When Paul and Melon travel to Crete to meet Maria's family and spread her ashes on the farm where she grew up, Melon learns the many falsehoods that made up the family story Maria always told her. Getting to this massive revelation was both a great anticipation and one that I didn't mind waiting for over the course of Red Ink. While Melon is an abrasive character, her voice feels so authentically adolescent that it was easy to forgive her and listen. The power of stories of the past and the power to change your own story and rewrite it in the present, as your life is unfolding, as explored in Red Ink are fascinating. This is especially so when you consider that Melon is at a point in her life when she is figuring out who she is and beginning to write her own story, which is exactly what she does by the end of the novel, and with a healthy dose of appreciation for the subjectivity we bring to our own narratives.

Source: Review Copy

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20. Lion & Tiger & Bear: Tag! You're It! by Ethan Long



Ethan Long's books have a great energy to them - a silly, slightly frenetic energy that reminds me of toddlerhood. Long's newest book, Lion & Tiger & Bear: Tag! You're it!, has that great energy paired with a great story and a delicious palette. The title of this book and the endpapers that are a map of Green Hills Hollow where the trio of animals live lead me to think that Lion & Tiger & Bear: Tag! You're It! will be the first in a series and I can't wait to see what this trio of friends gets up to next.

But first, inspired by the beautiful morning in Green Hills Hollow,  Lion is enjoying some time in his Alone Spot. He is immersed in painting a picture. But Bear and Tiger have other ideas. They want to play tag.

Over and over, Bear and Tiger try to draw Lion in. Lion becomes increasingly frustrated. There is one superb two page spread where we see the trio all over Green Hills Hollow, Lion trying out different places to paint and avoid his tag playing friends (in a tree, on a raft in the river, in a deep hole) and his friends finding him. It reminds me very much of the way a toddler will draw you in with relentlessness and an unending reserve of energy. Lion finally snaps and gets the time he needs to finish his masterpiece - a painting of the three friends! The final page shows Lion tagging Bear and running off...




Source: Review Copy

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21. Ninja Timmy, written and illustrated by Henrik Tamm, 224pp, RL 4


Ninja Timmy is the debut novel from Henrik Tamm. Tamm's day job is working as a conceptual designer in Hollywood, world building for animated and live-action movies like Shrek, the Chronicles of Narnia and Men in Black 3. And boy, does this guy knows how to build worlds. With illustrations. With words, he's got some catching up to do, but that is my adult critic opinion and I have no doubt that young readers will be as enthralled and enchanted by Tamm's story as I am by his artwork.

The world that Timmy lives in is old world European with a dash of steampunk and is inhabited by anthropomorphic animals, humans, and the occasional toy that has come to life. In the city of Elyzandrium, in a loft above a bakery, Timmy and his inventing crew, Simon, a handsome mink who loves the ladies, and Jasper and Casper, the piglet brothers, work to make machines that will simplify people's lives and line their pockets. Just when the crew has built a machine that will see them through the rest of the year (an automated orange peeler), things go very wrong.


Their machine is stolen by the Gribbles, warthog cousins, and delivered to Blue Rabbit, a toy turned bad who plans to steal the laughter from the children of Elyzandrium in order to give himself a soul. In the melee that follows, Timmy is almost thrown in jail before being rescued by a marvelous flying contraption, sent to his aid by a human, Alfred the toy maker. Alfred takes Timmy back to his workshop where they bond over their love of inventions, then Alfred takes Timmy to a magical series of caves where he finds a very rare flower that Alfred has only harvested once in his life, some forty years earlier.


Together with his old gang and new friends,  like Flores, the (girl, only girl) pilot, Timmy fights to stop the kidnappings of children happening around town with the help of the amazing machines and contraptions created by Alfred and Timmy. Tamm definitely has a gift for thinking up magical creations and Ninja Timmy is filled to the brim with them, from the clockwork creatures that Alfred creates (spiders, bats, helicopters and robots) to the Ziliosphere, a beautifully bejeweled blue orb that slows time, to the steampunk spy gear he makes for Timmy and his crew. Then there are the creepier contraptions that Blue Rabbit employs, from his steel hot air balloon with claw feet, to his steam-powered motorcycle riding reptiles, to the soul sucking machine.



While the evil Blue Rabbit is stopped in Ninja Timmy, there are always more inventions to build and villains to thwart, especially since this is a trilogy. Book 2, Ninja Timmy and the Journey to Sansoria, is already available in Tamm's native Sweden and should hit our shelves in 2017.



Source: Review Copy

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22. How to Find Gold by Viviane Schwarz



A seemingly familiar story of a pair of friends searching for buried treasure is anything but in the marvelously imaginative hands of Viviane Schwarz! How to Find Gold is the perfect pairing of text and illustrations and Anna and Crocodile are the perfectly paired friends who make this book even more delicious. 



How to Find Gold begins with Anna saying to her pal, "Let's find gold," to which Crocodile responds, "That would be dangerous and difficult." This suits Anna just fine. The planning stages are seriously hilarious. Anna and Crocodile take themselves and their quest very seriously, but their logic will have you smiling, if not flat out laughing, as you read. They practice making a "secret face" so that no one will know what they are planning and get to the gold before them. They practice carrying heavy things (in this case, Anna hoists Crocodile onto her shoulders because gold probably is not heavier than a crocodile) and they draw maps. Lots and lots of maps. They also take into consideration Crocodile's point that, "Not all gold is buried. There is also sunken gold."





Crocodile explains this with a drawing and then they find all the things from the drawing so that they can dive for gold. Admitting that finding sunken gold is a challenge, the pair decide to search the spot where "the sea is boiling and the clouds are like a tower and the fish are in the air." The imagination of Anna and Crocodile is endless!



As the pair dive for the treasure the illustrations changes. Where Anna, in her red dress, and Crocodile with his bright green skin, had been the main pops of color on the page, Schwarz begins to fill the pages with color and mixed media, making for bright, swirling, spreads that you feel like you could dive into yourself. 


Upon finding gold, the two quickly decide that it would be better not to spend it. Instead, they draw a map and bury it. Their map is so good that they decide to bury it with the treasure! Back at home, Anna tells Crocodile that he can stop making his secret face. He lets her know that this is actually his happy face, but they look similar. The congratulate themselves on finding gold, even when it was dangerous and difficult. Hand in hand, they head off, clearly to their next adventure.

Apologies for telling the whole plot of How to Find Gold, but it is just so completely charming that it was hard not to. I have been a longtime fan of Schwarz's work and a new book from her is always cause for celebration! I hope you will explore her other books by clicking here or by clicking on the titles below.

More books by Viviane Schwarz 
(and sometimes Alexis Deacon)


(a graphic novel)








Cheese Belongs to You!, written by Alexis Deacon

A Place to Call Home, written by Alexis Deacon




Source: Review Copy, but I totally would have bought this book...

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23. Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling by Tony Cliff, 272 pp, RL: Middle Grade




When I reviewed Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff in 2013, I began by apologizing for the reductionist comparison between his insanely awesome character, Delilah Dirk, and Indiana Jones. But the thing is, Delilah Dirk is the closest I have found in all my reading to a girl character that I have no doubt could overcome the supposed reluctance boys have to reading books with main characters who are girls. But, this is all beside the point. The bottom line is that Tony Cliff has created a character and a world that is completely immersive and absorbing. Upon finishing Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, I felt as though I had read a 300 page novel and watched a fantastic movie. Seriously, these books are so beyond superlatives. I hope I can write about it coherently enough to convince you to give them a try! Enjoy several pages of Cliff's superb illustrations to find a short summary of book two in what I hope is a long series...









Of course I don't want to give away too much of the plot of Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, but rather tempt you with some key details. Delilah Dirk, daughter of a Greek mother and English father who was a foreign ambassador, allowing him to provide a well traveled and uncommon childhood for his only child, and Erdemoglu Selim, former Turkish janissary and killer tea maker, have been traveling companions for two years. While not avoiding conflict, sword fights and occasional gun battle, the two have been mostly staying out of trouble - until they cross paths with Major Jason Merrick in Portugal where the British are preparing to battle the French in the Peninsular War. Merrick decides to frame Delilah for his treasonous activities and she does not go lightly, taking a bullet to the arm in the process. Of course Delilah and Selim escape and she insists on returning to England to confront Maj. Merrick and restore her reputation. Selim is a loss to understand Delilah's insistence, but he follows her to a country and class of people who assume he is her servant. 

Cliff brings great character development to Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling, both for Delilah and Selim. While there is plenty of action and fight after fight, the personalities, motivations and struggles both face are so compelling - as compelling as Delilah's strong jawline and voluminous hair. And, happily, with her return to England and her familial estate, we get to see where Delilah inherited these physical - and personality traits from!

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant



Source: Review Copy




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24. Apollo: The Brilliant One by George O'Connor, 80pp, RL 4


Second only to fairy tales, Greek mythology is a favorite of mine. A few years ago, I created a post featuring reference books, story collections and retellings of The Iliad and The Odyssey for kids that you can read here. And, while I love Greek mythology, I am very picky about what I choose to read, give my kids to read and, now as a school librarian, purchase for my students to read. I am grateful to Rick Riordan for making Greek mythology interesting to kids in a huge way, but I am not always happy with the ways that he tweaks the myths. And, while my personal taste does not keep these books - or the graphic editions - off the shelves, I am thrilled that my students share my taste, making George O'Connor's SUPERB Olympians series of graphic novels the most checked out in my library.


O'Connor is a true scholar of Greek myths and this is evident in each of his books, from the various stories about each god and goddess that he chooses to present in each book to the way he frames these stories and connects them to the excellent back matter, starting with the Author's Note, god/goddess stats, "Greek Notes," which are footnotes that add a wealth of information to the stories, and discussion questions. The frontmatter always includes an extensive Olympians Family Tree. And, while I can't be sure if my students are reading these excellent extras, I do know that they are more likely to consume this information at the end of these graphic novels than they are to pick up D'Aulaire's Greek Myths or other collections, both because of its massive size and outdated appearance. Be sure to visit O'Connor's website,   Olympians Rule, where you can read excepts from each book and find more extras to go with each book in the series, like Reader's Theater scripts, an "Add Art or Text" feather that provides a page of illustrated panels with blank speech bubbles OR a page of speech bubbles allowing you to draw in your own gods and goddesses.



O'Connor begins Apollo: The Brilliant One with a quote from The Odyssey, "O Muse! Sing in me, and through me tell a story." Apollo's story begins with one of the Mousai, the nine goddesses of inspiration, or, the Muses. As I read Apollo, I wondered how O'Connor chose the stories that he shares and what order to share them in. Happily, his Author's Note answered that question, which is lengthy but so illuminating. O'Connor writes, 

I felt I had to find the thread of what made Apollo compelling, not just as the central character of this book, but as a widely revered god in the ancient world. Ultimately, , inspiration did strike - the nature of the stories told about Apollo is exactly what makes him so interesting to others and to me. He is not some bland, perfect deity; he is conflicted, malicious, and spiteful. He is unknowable in his inhumanity, yet simultaneously relatable. Through research and immersion, the personality of shining Apollo revealed itself to me: an imperfect, proud, brilliant god, resplendent in his glory and unashamed of his pettiness.

For me, O'Connor's description of Apollo also perfectly explains why the Greek myths have endured for thousands of years and are still infinitely interesting and relevant, to both adults and children.

Born of  the she-wolf, Leto, and Zeus, Apollo and his twin sister Artemis's birth story is fascinating. As children, they are taken before their father who asked them what "gifts they desired, what they would become." Artemis, who was born first and, in the way that gods and goddesses do, helped Leto deliver her brother nine days later, wants to remain unmarried forever. She wants to hunt with a silver bow and arrows and run wild through the woods with her "own entourage of Oceanides, nymphs and hounds." Apollo refuses to answer. Zeus gives him a "bow to match his sister's. A golden tripod. A chariot pulled by swans to carry him wherever he wished."


The Muses get a nice bit of page time which includes listing the artistic endeavors they are the inspirations for. The story of Apollo and Daphne, subject of many works of art including Bernini's magnificent sculpture, and the story of Apollo and Hyacinth are both filled with action and emotion. My favorite tale is presented by Clio, the Muse of History, and so much of it is part of our everyday lives today. Apollo fell in love with a mortal woman, the Thessalian princess Koronis. He leaves a white crow to watch over her and, when this crow reports her infidelity, Apollo's rage "scorches the very air around him," which is why all crows are now black. Apollo's ego - and his deep love for his child (another crazy awesome birth story there...) make for a very compelling myth. Turns out, Asklepios, Apollo's son, is raised by Chiron, a centaur and great healer who basically trains Asklepios to be the first human doctor! In turn, Asklepios trains his daughters, Hygeia and Panacea (what what??) to be doctors! Asklepios's sad end is almost as gripping as his strange birth. But I'll leave that for you to discover!


God Stats, found in every book!




Olympians Rule!








Source: Review Copy



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25. The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson, 64 pp, RL 3




Victoria Jamieson is the author of the superb, Newbery Honor winner this year, Roller Girl. With her newest graphic novel, Pets on the Loose: The Great Pet Escape, Jamieson shifts from the rough and tumble world of roller derby to the dangerous lives of classroom pets. Jamieson's bright palette, way with edgy but cute creatures and attention to details make Pets on the Loose a treat to read - one you will want to read over and over while waiting for the sequel.


Before we get to chapter one, we get a close up look at the grim life of the narrator, a hamster who has been imprisoned for three months, two weeks and one day in a second grade classroom. Captured along with his friends Biter, a guinea pig, and Barry, a rabbit, GW (short for George Washington, something he is deeply embarassed by) has been plotting their escape. He has invented the Sunflower Slingshot (and there is a hilarious illustration of GW playing the sweet class pet, happily taking a sunflower from the fingers of a student) and the Rodent Catapult Transportation Device.
Once the kids are gone and the lights are off, GW is a different creature. The scenes of GW preparing for a jail break are fantastic and filled with little details, like bobby pins with pretty flowers on them, and the knit cap that GW dons. Sadly, busting out of his cage and then getting Biter and Barry free is not the liberating experience GW imagined. Barry, who has been living in a first grade classroom, has gone a little soft, tucking the toys in for the night and reading them a bedtime story. And Biter? Life in the kindergarten classroom seems to have sent him over the edge. When GW and Barry find him he's singing the theme song from the Barney show and sitting, happily in an unlocked cage!

Things go from bad to worse, including a run-in with Lucinda, the fifth grade pet (a snake) and her minions, the fourth grade pets (white mice) as well as the janitor and a bucket of filthy water. The climax finds the class pets in a very colorful food fight and imprisonment in a ring of green jello. The friends end up back in their cages, ready to plot their takeover of the school from Lucinda and her minions - after they take a nap...

Source: Purchased

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