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13+ New Halloween Books for 2021

 

 

BEST NEW HALLOWEEN BOOKS

A ROUNDUP

 

 

 

 

 

Spookytale coverSPOOKYTALE (An Abrams Trail Tale)
Written by Christopher Franceschelli

Illustrated by Allison Black
(Abrams Appleseed; $14.99, Ages 0-3)

Christopher Franceschelli’s latest book in his Abrams Block Book series is Spookytale, an interactive board book. We travel along with a boy, girl, and dog to their far-off destination: a haunted house. This journey takes them through the woods, across the bridge, and so forth. Each scene has die-cut pieces that lift to reveal fun Halloween-themed surprises. Fun hole-punched areas add textural interest.

The simple text is offset with rich illustrations by Allison Black. Pages have a lot going on; in subsequent readings, kids will find something new. Done in autumnal tones with pops of bright colors, costumed kids and smiling monsters are equally cute. The final scene is a dramatic quadruple gatefold that reveals all the festivities inside the house.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zant

 

TrickorTreat Bugs to Eat coverTRICK OR TREAT, BUGS TO EAT
Written by Tracy C. Gold
Illustrated by Nancy Leschnikoff
(So
urcebooks Explore; $10.99, Ages 4-8)

I love Halloween books and Tracy C. Gold’s Trick or Treat, Bugs to Eat is one of my favorites to date. The words are set to the “Trick or Treat, Smell My Feet” rhyme: “Hear my calls / bounce off walls, / echoing as darkness falls.” From there, Gold has gotten clever by presenting a story about a bat out trick-or-treating, weaving in lots of animals facts. For example, we learn bats are nocturnal, use echolocation, and they sure eat a lot of bugs—up to a thousand insects each night!

Coupled with the exceptional text is Nancy Leschnikoff’s outstanding art. I don’t know how many times I exclaimed, “It’s so cute!” while I read this book, but the expressive bat really is that adorable. Surrounding scenic art is just as great (love the raccoon!). The nightscape is rendered in appealing shades of blues and purples.

At only eight-by-eight inches, this 32-page picture book fits well in small hands. Between the engaging story, excellent art, and informative back matter, this book’s got it all.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

Poultrygeist coverPOULTRYGEIST
Written by Eric Geron
Illustrated by Pete Oswald
(Candlewick Press; $16.99, Ages 4-8)

Kids will cluck out loud upon reading this chicken-centric ghost tale children’s book. In a nutshell (or should I say eggshell?), the story opens with an unsuspecting chicken getting run down by a massive truck and becoming a ghost. I mean, why was he crossing the road in the first place, right?

Soon, all the other local animals that have been hit by vehicles gather around the newly dead chicken to explain the ropes. The humor in this fast-paced read is that they want the newly deceased fowl to begin haunting, only this “spring chicken” has no desire to frighten others. In fact, at one point he turns to the reader and asks, “Pssst? Are you OK?” The sweet surprise is when the fryer asserts himself, accidentally scaring off the troublesome spirits.

The story comes hilariously full circle when the scene switches from the pleased poultrygeist to a squirrel crossing the same dangerous roadway. Pete Oswald’s expressive art in Poultrygeist adds another fun layer to this dark and delightful Halloween story that perhaps unintentionally and hilariously drives home the point to look both ways when crossing

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

How to Haunt a House coverHOW TO HAUNT A HOUSE
Written
by Carolyn Crimi
Illustrated by Edward Miller
(Albert Whitman; $16.99, Ages 4-8) 

Carolyn Crimi’s rhyming picture book, How to Haunt a House, features ghosts in a classroom being taught the teacher’s “special ghost technique” for haunting. Groana, Moana, and Shrieky are assigned three houses; all goes well until the last one which proves to be a challenge. The ghosts must figure out something new that will scare the ghouls who live there. It’s got to be tough when, instead of fleeing, “the small girl kissed those scrawny rats.”

Comical illustrations by Edward Miller enhance the text’s humor. His evocative characters are a kick; I especially like the skulking, glaring black cats. The book’s underlying message, “Do not give up! You’ll find a way!” is tackled lightheartedly yet still shows how, sometimes, you need to come at a problem from a new direction in order to solve it.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

If You Ever Meet a Skeleton coverIF YOU EVER MEET A SKELETON
Written by Rebecca Evans
Illustrated by Katrin Dreiling
(Page Street Kids; $17.99; Ages 4-8)

I never thought I would want to meet a skeleton until I met the adorable protagonist in If You Ever Meet A Skeleton written by Rebecca Evans, who was inspired to write this story after meeting a skeleton in a museum.

Sleeping underground with other skeletons and a few bugs, Skeleton climbs to the surface looking for a friend. He finds three kids dressed in costumes on Halloween night. Dreiling illustrates the skeleton with a piece of blond hair giving the reader a feel for what he looked like before his demise. Evans’ rhyming words take what could be a scary topic and turn it into a humorous read. “Skeletons might seem spooky—white bones without the skin, no eyes, no ears, no lips, just one big toothy grin.”

Children dressed as witches, pirates, and ninja warriors with round faces and toothy grins are not sure what to make of this unusual creature, but Evans takes the reader through a wonderful understanding of how a skeleton, thought different from themselves, can be friend material. “Skeletons have no guts, so they aren’t brave like you. They’re scared of nighttime shadows and owls that say ‘whoooo.’”

This is a great addition to the fall reading list for the school classroom. And how great it is to have a friend who will go “trick-or-treating with you then share their chocolate bar, just like best buddies do.”

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Boo Stew coverBOO STEW
Written by Donna L. Washington
Illustrated by Jeffrey Ebbeler
(Peachtree; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

A little girl named Curly Locks who loves to cook is the heroine of Boo Stew, a Goldilocks and the Three Bears fractured fairy tale. This Halloween story features food that won’t tempt your taste buds but just might be the right food to feed a scary soul or three.

It seems the Scares of Toadsuck Swamp might be hungry and while they’re invading homes to steal food, they’re causing chaos, especially at the mayor’s house. After they chase him out with an ominous “Gitchey Boo, Gitchey Bon! Gitchey Goo, Gitchey Gone!” the blacksmith, and the chicken rancher also try to vanquish the scary villains with no luck.

Curly Locks, fearless and clever, steps up and entices the Scares with her Boo Stew. With its moose ear broth, toenail clippings, and gnat juice, Boo Stew does the job. A deal is struck and the creatures head back to the swamp. The townsfolk get a Scare-free Toadsuck and Curly Locks … well she gets to prepare all sorts of concoctions for the appreciative Scares since no one else will eat her cooking anyway! Washington has taken the Goldilocks tale and spun a unique, engaging Halloween story. Ebbeler’s colorful, detailed, and dynamic illustrations set a tone that’s just right for this humorous picture book.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Ghouls' Guide to Good GrammarTHE GHOULS’ GUIDE TO GOOD GRAMMAR
Written by Leslie Kimmelman
Illustrated by Mary Sullivan
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99; Ages 4-8)

Learning proper grammar can be quite daunting for young kids, especially for those still learning over Zoom, but Leslie Kimmelman has created a fabulous storytime picture book that can be read during the Halloween season or any time of the year. The Ghouls’ Guide To Good Grammar is a hilarious take on how different a sentence can read if a comma is misplaced or other grammar isn’t correct. Sullivan’s illustration of a sweet young girl holding a bowl of cat food for Sylvester reads “Time to eat, Sylvester.” But when the giant ghoul with sharp teeth peeks around the corner with all eyes on the little grey and white cat he thinks “Time to eat Sylvester.” A very different and dastardly meaning when the comma is removed!

Turning the page, the reader learns that “contractions are two words shortened and combined with an apostrophe to make one word.” This sounds confusing until the reader visually sees Sullivan’s colorful drawing of six ghouls surrounded by bugs and spilled soda in “Ghouls’ really gross bedroom.” Kimmelman changes the location of the apostrophe to read “Ghoul’s really gross bedroom” and now we see it was one mischievous ghoul who made the mess all on his lonesome.

This treat of a story concludes with a Ghoul Grammar Quiz asking the reader which of the sentences shown has no mistakes. The Ghouls’ Guide to Good Grammar is an ideal teaching tool for a parent or a teacher to use to transform the often tough topic of punctuation into a frightfully fun learning experience.

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

There's a Ghost in this House coverTHERE’S A GHOST IN THIS HOUSE
Written and illustrated by Oliver Jeffers
(Philomel Books; $27.99, Ages 4-8)

I may not be the target age range for this creative book but I had a blast reading it. First of all, There’s a Ghost in this House is less a straightforward picture book―although Jeffers has illustrated it with a little girl, some adorable (and giggling in places) ghosts, and lots of striped clothing―and more a seek-and-find interactive story so children can be in control of how many ghosts they’d like to discover over the course of 80 pages.

Jeffers has taken found black and white photos of an imposing 18th-century mansion and then brought in bits of color with the addition of the young girl narrator/guide. Readers join her to tour the house as she looks for ghosts which are printed white on transparent vellum paper throughout the book and appear when the paper is placed against the b+w house interiors. That’s such a fantastic idea because I never knew what poses the ghosts would be in and where exactly they’d show up each time. 

Since the ghouls are not menacing in the least, children can enjoy this book without fear. Parents and caregivers can admire the cleverness of the presentation while also deciding how many ghosts to expose.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

Brains! Not Just a Zombie Snack coverBRAINS! NOT JUST A ZOMBIE SNACK
Written by Stacy McAnulty
Illustrated by Matthew Rivera
(Henry Holt BYR; $18.99; Ages 4-8)

Matthew Rivera illustrates a green zombie girl with a red scar across her forehead seeking brains to eat in Brains! Not Just A Zombie Snack. Focusing on the fascinating science of the body, STEM picture book author Stacy McAnulty teaches the reader about the importance of the brain and how, without it, reading a picture book would be impossible. This educational read breaks down the five senses of touch, sound, sight, smell, and taste and how the brain receives messages from these senses. What better time than Halloween to explore this subject?!

Zombie Girl is desperate for some brain to eat and in her search for this delectable snack, the reader discovers “Neurons! They do the work, and you have about 86 billion of them.” Zombie holds up two cans of Neurons and Glial Cells with anxious eyes ready to eat. “When you learn something new, like how to add numbers, play the piano, tie up a zombie, you aren’t making more neurons—you’re making new and stronger pathways.”

My brain took in a whole lot of information that I was not aware of such as a 75-year-old human’s brain is 10 percent smaller than max size (so 2.7 pounds-ish) instead of 3 pounds in a grown-up human. The best advice the reader learns is that “if you want to run away from a zombie later. You’ll want your cerebellum.”

The helpful back matter includes Brain Facts such as A human brain is only about 2-3 percent of an adult’s body weight, but it uses almost 20 percent of the body’s energy. I also was surprised to learn that Albert Einstein’s brain was stolen by Dr. Thomas Harvey and cut into 240 blocks to be studied upon his death. This is something I would like to learn more about!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Poison for Breakfast coverPOISON FOR BREAKFAST
by Lemony Snicket

Chapter Spot art by Margaux Kent
(Liveright; $17.95, All Ages)

Lemony Snicket’s Poison for Breakfast will certainly be a hit with his fans because the author’s style is quite unique, a word which here means “weird in undefinable ways.” Though marketed to older MG and YA readers, this book appeals to adults as well. This true story begins when Mr. Snicket (as he prefers to be addressed) finds a bewildering and frightening note under his door that reads, “You had poison for breakfast.”

We go along with Mr. Snicket as he reviews each item consumed for breakfast to uncover the culprit. He meanders to locations where the breakfast items originated. Though we eventually discover what’s behind this mystery, the pleasure is in the circuitous journey told in a way that only Lemony Snicket can, complete with endnotes elaborating topics touched upon.

I enjoy the distinctive structure, odd tidbits, and repetition. So, make yourself a poached egg as Mr. Snicket recommends, and settle in for a fun read. A list-maker myself, I find Mr. Snicket’s lists particularly amusing. And, as a writer, knowing the three rules of writing will undoubtedly help me better my craft. They are: (1) Include the element of surprise, (2) Leave something out, and, (3) Well, no one really knows the third rule.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

The Ghoul Next Door coverTHE GHOUL NEXT DOOR 
Written by Cullen Bunn
Illustrated by Cat Farris
(Harper Alley; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Get your ghoul on with The Ghoul Next Door, a terrific new middle-grade graphic novel featuring just enough ghouls, ghosts, and atmospheric underworld to make you read it in one sitting and then start all over again.

Welcome to Anders Landing, est. 1692, a place sought out by accused witches to avoid the witch hunts and trials of Salem taking place the same year. Things go downhill quickly for main character Grey who, after picking up an unlucky penny, takes a shortcut to school through the local cemetery. Grey doesn’t want to lug his bulky Salem Witch-themed school project the long way like his superstitious friend, Marshall. When Grey trips on an open grave and drops his project in it, he panics. Looking down he sees his cemetery project grasped by a monster-ish hand. Then, it’s gone.

That evening something enters his bedroom and begins leaving gifts, not the birthday present sort, but finger bones, a doll of his likeness, and assorted other items that freak him out. This creature clearly likes Grey and replaces the original cemetery model with an even better one. Grey may score points in class with the new project, but Marshall thinks it’s best to tell some adults about all the creepy goings-on. While he initially didn’t believe Grey, he’s now changed his mind after a trip to the cemetery where he gets a glimpse of the ghoul. Lavinia, as she’s called, saves Grey from an army of rats and a friendship begins. In foreshadowing the story’s conflict, she warns the two humans to keep mum about what they know or they risk the ire of those underground and put her in jeopardy.

Readers learn that the ghoulish creatures that live below the surface (Grey and Marshall are considered human surface dwellers), aside from enjoying eating the newly dead, greatly dislike and mistrust humans and fear discovery. As payback, they kidnap Marshall leading Grey and Lavinia on a dangerous mission underground to rescue him before he’s killed. What ensues is a page-turning adventure with the right mix of dialogue, fantastical and haunting art, and heart, although technically I don’t think a ghoul has one. The friendship of Lavinia and Grey challenges the ‘no contact with humans’ rule laid out by Lavinia’s community and feels satisfying and fresh (although using that word here feels kind of ghoulish). She risks everything for Grey while he also puts his life on the line to help both his old and new friends and ultimately himself. Read this in the daytime if you live anywhere near a cemetery.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

THE HALLOWEEN MOONThe Halloween Moon cover
Written by Joseph Fink
(Quill Tree Books; $16.99, Ages 10-13)

What if time stood still and it could be Halloween forever? The candy part is tempting, but if everyone you loved had fallen into a deep, otherworldly sleep, it might not be so sweet. That’s exactly what 13-year-old protagonist Esther Gold is dealing with in Joseph Fink’s imaginative novel, The Halloween Moon. Blending fantasy and magic in a contemporary Southern California setting, Fink opens the book with a prologue detailing a robbery of something seemingly quite small which proves to have huge significance in the story. 

Esther lives for Halloween but her best friend, Agustín, does not. So when Esther’s parents announce she has aged out of trick-or-treating, having become an adult at her bat mitzvah, she realizes she’ll have to circumvent this new rule. When that plan involves Agustín, he seems game. Did he agree a bit too easily? Did she like that he did? Those are just a few of the questions Esther faces on this very long Halloween night set under a huge orange Halloween moon. 

Odd goings-on occur as Esther and Agustín notice only a motley crew of trick-or-treaters with shadowy faces are out and about. Their clicky sounds are creepy too. Plus all the people usually into the holiday aren’t answering their doors. The pair soon discover that a sleeping spell has been cast over the community. An urgency hits when Esther realizes her little sister has gone missing. That’s also what brings Esther together with bully Sasha Min who has often lobbed anti-semitic and other hurtful insults her way. But since Sasha’s distraught over her kidnapped brother and unwakeable mother, she agrees to team up with the other two intrepid trick-or-treaters to find out what’s going on. Along the way, the teens take the rare awake adult, next-door neighbor, Mr. Gabler, onboard as they try to reverse the spell and bring the interminable Halloween nightmare safely to an end 

I enjoyed this book because, in addition to the mystery the teens hope to solve, readers get inside Esther’s head and learn that she’s been having difficulty accepting change in her life. Whether the change is about her giving up trick-or-treating, her changing feelings for Agustín, watching Grandma Debbie getting older and frailer, or about what might happen when she moves up into high school the following year, Fink ties Esther’s growth into the Halloween adventure in a satisfying way. The dynamic shared between Esther and Sasha as they try to resolve past conflicts is also one that should resonate with readers. Horror fans will note references to John Carpenter and the horror film genre in general.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

HAPPY HOWL-O-WEEN MAD LIBS  
by Mad Libs

(Mad Libs; $6.99, Ages 8-12)

Mad Libs are one of those things: we all know and enjoy them. As a parent, I wholeheartedly encourage playing Mad Libs whenever a boring moment strikes. Yes, they’re hilarious and spark the imagination, but also (secret parent trick) drill home the parts of speech: adverb versus adjective and so forth. And if you’re a little rusty, no fear. Following the instructions, there’s a “quick review” that easily explains that, for example, when an exclamation is called for, they mean something like “Wow!” “Ouch!” or “Ick!”

The Happy Howl-o-ween version takes all the best stuff about this holiday and mixes it up with the fill-in-the-blank fun of Mad Libs. There are 63 themed stories to create in three categories: Monster Mash, Trick or Treat (both by Tristan Roarke), and Day of the Dead (by Karl Jones).

Whether you’ve done these a million times or are just introducing them to a young child, pick up a copy for your car as a way to pass some time with laughs and learning.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

vampires hearts other dead things coverVAMPIRES, HEARTS, & OTHER DEAD THINGS
by Margie Fuston
(Margaret K. McElderry; $18.99, Ages 14 and up) 

Instead of celebrating her senior year, Victoria won’t give up on her terminally ill dad—even when her family is told there are no treatment options left to pursue. Her mom and sister seem better at letting go. Victoria, instead, turns to the passion of all-things-vampire that she shares with her father and decides it’s up to her to save him. Ten years ago, a vampire announced himself to the world, but, after some mishaps, the vampires went back into hiding. Victoria takes that trip to New Orleans she’d planned on doing with her dad and, while there, vows to find and get bitten by a vampire so she can save her father by turning him into one too.

The grief Victoria struggles with is realistically handled, as is the complex connection she has with Henry (her neighbor, former BFF, and maybe boyfriend). As in all good love stories, a bit of a love triangle comes into play, but the heart of the story involves Victoria’s relationships with her family and Henry. Messy emotions are laid bare in a hauntingly beautiful setting. I like how Victoria’s quest leads her through ever-increasing challenges that test her resolve to follow through with this plan.

A new, vital addition to the vampire lore. Not only does this story add its own flair, but it explores previous books and movies—a pleasing touch for vampire aficionados.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

 

 

ADDITIONAL RECOMMENDED HALLOWEEN READS 

 

BOO! BAA! LA LA LA!
Written and illustrated by Sandra Boynton
(Little Simon; $5.99, Age 0-5)

 

 

Vampenguin coverVAMPENGUIN
Written and illustrated by Lucy Ruth Cummins
(Atheneum BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)

 

 

 

The Haunted Mustache coverTHE HAUNTED MUSTACHE: Book #1 Fright Nights
Written by Joe McGee
Illustrated by Teo Skaffa
(Aladdin; $6.99, Ages 7-10)

 

 

 

 

What Lives in the Woods coverWHAT LIVES IN THE WOODS
Written by Lindsay Currie
(Sourcebooks; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

 

THE GHOSTLY TALES OF THE QUEEN MARY
by Shelli Timmons
(Arcadia Children’s Books; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

 

 

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Middle Grade Non-fiction – A Curious Kid’s Guide to the Awesome 50 States

A CURIOUS KID’S GUIDE TO THE AWESOME 50 STATES

by Dinah Williams

(Shelter Harbor Press; $19.99. Ages 8 and up)

 

 

Awesome50states cover

 

 

We are all overdue to pile into the car and get out of the house, and what better book to pack in your suitcase than editor and children’s book author Dinah Williams’ book A Curious Kids Guide to the Awesome 50 States? This cool compendium for kids with curious minds provides more than 1,200 quirky, fun facts about all our states for this summer’s cross-country trips or armchair traveling.

Williams’ colorful, hard-cover book, filled with photos of unique foods, natural wonders, and awesome animals, opens to the map of America’s 50 states and closes with facts about Washington D.C., America Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Puerto Rico. Remembering the days of assisting my kids in memorizing the capitals of each state, I was drawn to the layout of the map with stars indicating the name of the capitals. Looking up Georgia, kids find the abbreviation (GA)—a good thing to learn—numbered points of interest, a banner stating The Peach State, and a star next to Atlanta. The Weirdest Roadside Attraction? The world’s largest peanut in Ashburn. And the spookiest spot in the state? Savannah’s Colonial Park Cemetary for those of you looking for a good haunt!

 

TheAwesome50States intspread Indiana
Interior spread from A Curious Kid’s Guide to The Awesome 50 States written by Dinah Williams, Shelter Harbor Press ©2021.

 

The intro lists the states alphabetically to help readers randomly search for a state they may be most interested to learn more about or a state they plan to visit. It’s also a fabulous tool for learning about the state you reside in. With that in mind, I started with California since that is the state I call home. It features a drawing of a brown bear and the Golden Gate Bridge, along with the names of the cities throughout the state, and main highways.

When randomly turning to states I have visited, and states I wish to one day see, I liked how Williams explains, for example, that the Natural Wonder of Kentucky is Mammoth Cave National Park, “site of the world’s longest cave, with 400 miles explored to date.” I then turned to Louisiana, eager to find about the Bayou state and under the Awesome Animal section for that state I read, “Louisiana has the most wild alligators in the country, about two million, with the highest population in coastal marshes.”

 

TheAwesome50States intspread_Texas
Interior spread from A Curious Kid’s Guide to The Awesome 50 States written by Dinah Williams, Shelter Harbor Press ©2021.

 

Each state features a Unique State Food, Spookiest Spot, Horrifying History Site, Thrilling Rides, Funniest Town name, and Weirdest Roadside Attraction. I also liked that a bottom strip includes “Other Stuff to Know” giving extra tidbits, such as in Missouri at the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, visitors got their first taste of cotton candy, known as “fairy floss.”

In the “Where in the US?” section, a yellow box in the right-hand corner shows a map where I learned that at 570,641 square miles of land, Alaska is the biggest state in America, bigger than the combined area of the 22 smallest states. And when turning to Hawaii, we are told that this state can fit into Alaska 89 times, and Iowa can fit into Alaska 10 times.

 

TheAwesome50States intspread Maine
Interior spread from A Curious Kid’s Guide to The Awesome 50 States written by Dinah Williams, Shelter Harbor Press ©2021.

 

I enjoyed learning what foods I should order the next time I am in Maine, which will be the Delicious Dessert Whoopie Pie, and it brought back memories of eating the Unique State Food of Lobster Roll. The blueberry muffins were amazing too!

And I have to mention the Bad Joke of every state which really made me giggle. Here goes: Which State Has The Most Pirates? ArrrrrrKansas.  Oh and one other: Why are New Hampshire stonemasons so sad? Their work is taken for granite. LOL!

This book got me excited to return to travel, and I know kids and parents will enjoy the fun facts as well as ideas for the best thrilling ride to lose your breath over. That would be the Soaring Eagle Zipline in South Dakota. Teachers will also enjoy turning this book into a fun game of Did you know? Okay, one last joke: How do you measure a Texas rattlesnake? In inches, because they don’t have any feet. Wishing you happy, humor-filled travels!

  • Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder

 

Click here to see more of what’s on offer from Shelter Harbor Press.

 

 

 

 

 

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Five Recommended Reads for Kids – Black History Month 2021

 

FIVE CHILDREN’S BOOKS FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH

∼A ROUNDUP∼

 

BlackHistoryMonthgraphic clipart

This year choosing books to include in our Recommended Reads for Kids – Black History Month Roundup has been more difficult than ever because there are dozens of excellent ones being published and more on the way. Here is just a small sample of great reads, from picture book to graphic novel to young adult fantasy that are available for kids and teens to enjoy.

 

 

TheABCsofBlackHistory cvrTHE ABCs OF BLACK HISTORY
Written by Rio Cortez
Illustrated by Lauren Semmer
(Workman Publishing; $14.95, Ages 5 and up)

A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER
Starred Review – Kirkus

The ABCs of Black History is the kind of inspiring book children and adults will want to return to again and again because there is so much to absorb. In other words, it’s not your mother’s ABC book. Written in uplifting rhyme by Pushcart Prize-nominated poet Rio Cortez, this gorgeous 60-page picture book is at once a look back in time and a look to the future for young Black children. However it is recommended reading for children of all races and their families.

Cortez has shined a lyrical light on places, events and figures familiar and less familiar from Black history with comprehensive back matter going more in depth. Take H for example: “H is for Harlemthose big city streets! / We walked and we danced to our own jazzy beat. / When Louis and Bessie and Duke owned the stage, / and Langston and Zora Neale Hurston, the page.” J is for Juneteenth and S, which gets double coverage, is for scientists and for soul. Adding  to the hopeful tone of Cortez’s rhyme are Semmer’s bold and vibrant graphics which jump off the page. The dazzling colors pull you in and the variety of composition keep you hooked.

The ABCs of Black History is a book you’ll want to read together with your young ones and let your older children discover and savor on their own. It’s not only a visual and aural treat, it’s a sweeping celebration and exploration of Black culture and history that is beautiful, compelling, thought provoking and thoroughly unputdownable!
• Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

WE WAIT FOR THE SUN
Written by Dovey Johnson Roundtree and Katie McCabe

Illustrated by Raissa Figueroa  
(Roaring Brook Press; $18.99, Ages 4-8)

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, and Publishers Weekly

Adapted from the final chapter of Dovey Johnson Roundtree’s autobiography Mighty Justice, We Wait for the Sun is an intimate look at a tender moment in Dovey’s childhood. The book opens with a preface about the main character, Dovey, who grew up to be a legendary figure in the fight for racial equality-all through the influence of her beloved grandmother, Rachel Bryant Graham. Dovey loved to share stories of Grandmother Rachel; this book is the story she loved best. 

In “the midsummer night” when it’s “dark and cool,” Dovey and her grandmother walk “through the darkness toward the woods” to pick blackberries. Lyrical language and textural illustrations awaken the senses and draw us into their adventure.

Other women join in and the trip goes deeper still into the forest. Staring at Grandma’s shoes, Dovey is literally following her grandmother’s steps into the darkness. But Grandma Rachel provides comfort and reassurance. “If you wait just a little, your eyes will learn to see, and you can find your way.” 

Through such examples of wisdom and encouragement, it’s clear to see why Grandma Rachel was such an inspiration to Dovey and her later work as a civil rights lawyer. As they sit in the forest and listen to its  “thousand sounds,” a double page spread shows an aerial view of their meditative moment, immersed in the magic of their surroundings. 

And when they reach the berries, they’re every bit worth the wait-plump, juicy, and sweet-like the lush layers of purple, blue, and pink illustrations that display a beautiful berry-colored world as dawn, bit by bit, turns to day. Wrapped in each other’s arms, Grandma and Dovey watch the sun rise in its golden splendor. Grandma’s steadfast waiting for the light, despite the present darkness, is a moving message of hope, resilience, and bravery.

Back matter includes an in-depth note from co-author Katie McCabe chronicling Dovey’s fight against barriers in the law, military, and ministry. For anyone interested in the powerful ways family and history intersect, We Wait for the Sun is a must-have in every library.  • Reviewed by Armineh Manookian

 

Opening the Road coverOPENING THE ROAD:
Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book
Written by Keila V. Dawson
Illustrated by Alleanna Harris
(Beaming Books; $19.99, Ages 4-8)

While white Americans eagerly embarked on carefree car travel around the country, in 1930s Jim Crow America the road was not a safe or welcoming place for Black people. In Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book, Keila V. Dawson explores the entrepreneur Victor Green and his successful The Negro Motorist Green Book which was borne out of dire need.

Young readers will learn about the limitations that were in place restricting the freedoms of Black Americans to have access to the same conveniences whites did due to segregation laws. For instance, a road trip for a Black family meant bringing food, pillows, and even a portable toilet since most establishments along a route were for whites only. The same applied to hotels, service stations, auto-mechanics and even hospitals. And in “Sundown” towns, where Blacks could work but not live, those individuals had to be gone by sunset or risk jail or worse.

In this fascinating 40-page nonfiction picture book, Dawson explains in easy-to-understand prose exactly what obstacles faced Black travelers and why Green, a mail carrier, together with his wife Alma, decided to publish a directory. Inspired by a Kosher guide for Jews who also faced discrimination, Green began collecting information from people on his postal route about where safe places were in New York.

Eventually, with word-of-mouth expanding interest in Green’s book, he began corresponding with mail carriers nationwide to gather more recommendations for The Negro Motorist Green Book on more cities. Soon everyone from day-trippers to celebrities were using the Green Book. Green even made a deal with Standard Oil for the book to be sold in Esso gas stations where it “flew off the shelves.” Harris’s illustrations take readers back in time with colorful, realistic looking scenes of big old cars, uniformed service station attendants and locations in Black communities that opened their doors to Black travelers. Apart from a break during WWII, the book was sold until the need for it finally ended with the last edition in 1966-67.

Equality both on and off the road was the ultimate goal for Black Americans. That may have improved somewhat from when the first Green Book was published in 1936, but Victor did not live to see the Civil Rights Act of 1964 enacted, having passed away in 1960. However there is still a long road ahead because, unlike Victor’s Green Book, racism has not disappeared and being Black while driving can still be dangerous, even deadly.

Dawson dives into this in her five pages of back matter that include a clever roadway timeline graphic from the beginning of Green’s life in 1892 until the Green Book ceased publication. This is a helpful, thoughtfully written book to share with children to discuss racism, and a good way to begin a discussion about self-advocacy, ingenuity, and how to treat one another with respect. It’s also a welcome example of how Green channeled his frustration and dissatisfaction into a guide that ultimately changed people’s lives for the better. Click here for an essential Educator’s Guide. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

black cowboys cover origBLACK HEROES OF THE WILD WEST
Written and illustrated by James Otis Smith
with an introduction by Kadir Nelson
(Toon Books; HC $16.95, PB $9.99, Ages 8+)

Junior Library Guild Selection
Starred Review – Booklist

Kadir Nelson, in his interesting introduction to James Otis Smith’s graphic novel Black Heroes of the Wild West points out that cowboys, ranchers, homesteaders and other people from the Old West (west of the Mississippi River “during and after the American Civil War”) were historically portrayed in books, movies and TV through a white lens. In reality up to “a third of the settler population was African American.” I couldn’t wait to find out more about Mary Fields, known as “Stagecoach Mary” in her day, Bass Reeves, the first black Deputy U.S. Marshal west of the Mississippi, and “mustanger” Bob Lemmons, perhaps the original Texas horse whisperer.

All three individuals were forces to be reckoned with. First there’s Mary Fields, born into slavery in Tennessee. In her lifetime, she maintained fierce loyalty to friends, loved children, was generous to a fault, and had strength and energy second to none. She’s most noted, however, for her reputation as a banjo strumming, card playing, first African American female stagecoach driver who never missed a delivery and was not easily thwarted by wolves or bad weather.

I was blown away learning about Bass Reeves’s bravery in outwitting some murderous outlaws on the Most Wanted List. In the account Smith shares, Reeves single-handedly put himself into a dangerous situation by turning up as an impoverished loner looking for any kind of work to earn his keep. By cleverly offering up his services to the mother of the villains, earning her trust, and ultimately that of the bad guys too, he was able to capture them completely off guard. This plus thousands of other arrests cemented his place in history. The best part was how Smith’s illustrations conveyed Reeves in the particular scenario of capturing the outlaws by surprise which in turn surprised and satisfied me immensely.

Last but definitely not least is Bob Lemmons who was hired to corral wild mustangs and whose humane technique was not deadly to any of the horses, something other mustangers had not been able to manage. Smith takes readers on a journey of the senses along with Lemmons as he follows a group of mustangs he intends to wrangle, and details in both art and text how eventually Lemmons becomes one with the stallion leading the “manada” (mares and colts). “Bob knew their habits, their body language, their sounds. Like them, he flared his nostrils sniffing for danger.” You don’t have to be a horse lover to be impressed how Bob’s slow and steady approach made the mustangs think he was one of them.

Eight comprehensive pages of fascinating back matter round off this excellent middle grade read that will no doubt have tweens eager to find out more about these and other Black heroes. • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

The Gilded Ones coverTHE GILDED ONES
by Namina Forna
(Delacorte Press; $18.99, Ages 12 and up)

Starred Review – Booklist
A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

The Gilded Ones is book one of a West African-inspired epic fantasy series that will grab you from its first page. When girls turn sixteen, they must undergo The Ritual of Purity where they are bled to see if they can become a member of their village. However, if a girl’s blood runs gold, then she’s found impure and faces a fate worse than death. If Deka’s father had the money, he would have sent her to the House of Purity the year before the ritual, keeping her protected from sharp objects. Instead, Deka must be careful while she worries and prepares.

When Deka fails, she’s tortured until a mysterious woman she names White Hands offers an option out. The empire’s being attacked by seemingly invincible Deathshriek creatures. Deka becomes an alkali soldier fighting alongside other girls like her with powers that make them nearly immortal.

Namina Forna says, “The Gilded Ones is a book about my anger at being a woman. Sierra Leone was is very patriarchal. There were things I was expected to do as a girl because I was a girl.” This emotion is harnessed into the story, revealing societal inequities in an intricately woven plot that will surprise and enflame you.

Deka has the best “sidekick” ever—a shapeshifter called Ixa. Though there are elements of romance, it’s strong females who rule the plot. This book provides a fresh look at the “gods and goddesses” trope. The Gilded Ones is fierce, brutal, and relevant. Read it. • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

 

Click here to read another Black History Month review.
e

Additional Recommendations:

Ruby Bridges This Is Your Time by Ruby Bridges (Delacorte Press)
The Teachers March! by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace w/art by Charly Palmer (Calkins Creek)
Stompin’ at the Savoy by Moira Rose Donohue w/art by Laura Freeman (Sleeping Bear Press)
Overground Railroad by Lesa Cline-Ransome w/art by James Ransome (Holiday House)
R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul by Carole Boston Weatherford w/art by Frank Morrison (Atheneum BYR)
Finding a Way Home by Larry Dane Brimner (Calkins Creek)
Changing the Equation: 50+ Black Women in STEM by Tonya Bolden (Abrams BYR)

 

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Middle Grade Nonfiction – Who Got Game?

 

WHO GOT GAME?:
Baseball – Amazing But True Stories

Written by Derrick Barnes

Illustrated by John John Bajet

(Workman Publishing; $12.95, Ages 8 and up)

 

 

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus, School Library Journal

 

Of all the sports games I’ve ever attended, baseball ranks number one. In fact, before the pandemic, my family had plans to see the Quakes, our favorite minor league team, this summer. A few years ago we even visited the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown which I loved. Despite MLB’s shortened season, baseball remains America’s pastime and I’ve got the ideal book to read as a companion to catching the sport on TV: Who Got Game?: Baseball – Amazing But True Stories! written by Newbery Honor Winner Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet.

Dig into a box of Cracker Jack or open a bag of peanuts to munch on as you read the book in either one sitting, or slowly (with many seventh inning stretches) to savor all the “unrecognized and unheralded figures and the untold stories that hold important spaces in baseball history.” If you’re a die-hard fan, you will easily devour every page. If you’re simply looking for some inspirational stories to feed your soul, you too will get your fill.

Who Got Game? is divided into four chapters with headings that immediately clue you in to the subject matter: “Pivotal Players,” “Sensational Stories,” “Radical Records,” and “Colossal Comebacks.” Read them in order or jump around depending on what strikes your fancy. After that, Barnes recommends you take note of what you learn, remember the people who stood out and their stories, “then tell everyone you meet!”

WGG Rube Foster
Interior art from Who Got Game? written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet, Workman Publishing ©2020.

Find out about Andrew “Rube” Foster, the father of the Negro Leagues in Chapter #1. All-Black baseball teams emerged in the 1860s, but they were unofficial and remained that for several decades. Foster noted that when the White players came to Texas and he would practice with them, they were organized and professional. He wanted the same thing for the Negro Leagues and so, in 1920, Foster, along with “seven owners of other all-Black teams, created the Negro National League (NNL).” In fact, in 1947 Jackie Robinson was playing for the Kansas City Monarchs, first part of the NNL, and then the NAL (Negro American League) before leaving to join the Major Leagues as the first Black player.

WGG Jackie Mittchell int
Interior art from Who Got Game? written by Derrick Barnes and illustrated by John John Bajet, Workman Publishing ©2020.

In Chapter #2 (all the chapter numbers are cleverly located in a baseball graphic), you’ll be blown away by the story of 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell. Mitchell began learning baseball from the moment she could walk. Her dad taught her and then her neighbor, Charles “Dazzy” Vance, (an eventual Hall of Fame pitcher), took over. Not bad for a local coach! Her talent earned her a place on an all-girl team in Tennessee where she was spotted by a “big-time publicity guy” named Joe Engel. Engel “invited her to join his all-male team in a game that was the stuff of legend.” Imagine sitting in the stadium and seeing Babe Ruth come up to bat and, opposite him, at the pitcher’s mound, stands a teen-aged girl. Four pitches later he was out! She followed that by striking out another pro, Lou Gehrig, in just three pitches! No small feat when you’re up against two of baseball’s greats. Was this arranged? All three of the players involved never admitted to it, so we’ll never know. Regardless, it had to be a sight to see.

Bajet’s cartoon-style art has a nostalgic feel about it and helps ground every story shared. I especially liked the illustration of “Royals Legend George Brett and The Pine Tar Incident” and as a former New Yorker and Mets fan, I also loved the pictures of Roberto Clemente. Seven pages of useful back matter such as additional tips and resources, websites to explore and a glossary, complete the book.

There are lots more stories of unsung heroes, winners, losers, and all kinds of records broken and career comebacks to read about in this fabulous compendium that will make you appreciate the beloved game of baseball. Pick up a copy of Who Got Game? today while the season’s still on to enjoy each game, even more, knowing about all the amazing but true stories. “Holy cow!”

Click here for an Educator’s Guide.

  •  Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read a review of another book by Derrick Barnes here.

 

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Children’s Christmas Books Roundup 2019

CHRISTMAS BOOKS FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY

 

 

Christmas Is Coming! coverChristmas Is Coming!
Celebrate the Holiday with Art, Stories, Poems, Songs, and Recipes
By The Metropolitan Museum of Art

(Abrams BYR; $24.99, Ages 8 and up)  

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Christmas Is Coming! Celebrate the Holidays with Art, Stories, Poems, Songs, and Recipes is a book that families will enjoy throughout the holiday season. The stories feature something for everyone: two biblical excerpts and ten tales including a Sherlock Holmes adventure, a selection from Little Women, “The Elves and the Shoemaker” by the Brothers Grimm, and Moore’s lyrical “‘Twas the Night Before Christmas.” While this book is marketed to kids eight and up, younger ones will enjoy being read these stories while snuggling on a parent or grandparent’s lap.

If singing is your thing, you’ll find the music and lyrics to ten popular Christmas songs from kid-pleasing “Jingle Bells” and “Up on the Housetop,” to favorites such as “The First Noel” and “Silent Night.” To accompany all this festivity, try your hand at one of the six recipes, several from chefs at the Met’s classic restaurant, The Dining Room. Since I’m making English Toffee for holiday gifts, I’m interested in how this recipe’s addition of honey adds something new.

The stories, songs, and recipes are accompanied by full-color images serving as an introduction to art of great renown. This lovely book will make a treasured keepsake for your family or a thoughtful gift for someone special.

The Little Fir Tree coverThe Little Fir Tree
By Hans Christian Andersen

Illustrated by Christopher Corr
(Frances Lincoln Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 4-7)

In this version of The Little Fir Tree, an original story by Hans Christian Andersen is given new life in vibrant colors and a modern feel. Kids will relate to how the charming young tree wishes to be “big and tall like the other trees.” When lumberjacks cut it down, the fir soon finds itself adorned and admired as a family’s Christmas tree. After the holidays, splendor removed, the fir resides in the shed remembering its journey. However, a barren tree is not the end—from a buried pinecone, a new tree grows beginning the cycle once again.

Christopher Corr’s colorful folk art-inspired images refresh this familiar story. Exciting neon colors and stylized illustrations are sure to please kids. Each page has a lot going on, allowing kids to explore the story beyond the words. This beautifully updated edition of a heartfelt classic tale pleases both kids and adults.

Little Robins Christmas coverLittle Robin’s Christmas
By Jan Fearnley

(Nosy Crow; $16.99, Ages 2-5)

Jan Fearnley’s Little Robin’s Christmas will warm your heart. One week before Christmas, Little Robin sets out seven vests but, as those days come to pass, he comes across animals shivering in the cold. Without pause, he gives away his vests. On Christmas Eve, alone, far from home, and very cold, Little Robin gets a surprise from the big man himself.

This story shows how kind acts make you feel good and are sometimes reciprocated—important elements for kids as they learn about sharing. Fearnley’s words and images mesh seamlessly. Some pictures bring me back again and again: the squirrel asleep wearing a yellow vest, the rabbit posed with a blue vest on his ears, and Little Robin hugging a mouse between sprigs of red berries in the snow. The icy feel of the book emanates from cool blue tones and white. However, colors liven up the pages, echoing how Little Robin brings joy to those he meets in his travels.

santas secret book coverSanta’s Secret
By Denise Brennan-Nelson

Illustrated by Deborah Melmon
(Sleeping Bear Press; $16.99, Ages 5-7)

Santa’s Secret delights with its funny rhyme that takes you through a day with a girl on a quest to discover all she can about Santa—especially which one is real. I remember this question myself; kids come across Santas in many places and soon realize they seem to be different people. I like how Denise Brennan-Nelson’s story tackles this puzzling subject with humor and finesse. After all, the holidays are about believing.

Deborah Melmon’s art realistically sets the scenes with the girl’s quizzical looks and Grandma’s whispered secrets. The art is perfectly bright and hopeful. Spend some time reading the girl’s notes because they add another layer to the story. Apparently my daughter’s been right when insisting we leave out a carrot with Santa’s milk and cookies!

How to Trick a Christmas Elf cvrHow to Trick a Christmas Elf
By Sue Fliess

Illustrated by Simona Sanfilippo
(Sky Pony Press; $16.99, Ages 3-6)

Sue Fliess charms us again with How to Trick a Christmas Elf. Since kids want to know whether they’ve been noted as naughty or nice, knowing how to distract an elf to take a quick peek at the list is surely handy. This rhyming read-aloud tale shows what happens when you build an elf-sized sleigh. With elves very much a part of Christmas lore, this book offers a fresh take on modern elves who hang out in our homes. We’re left with the important message that we should give from our hearts. Afterward is a brief history of Christmas elves and instructions on how to build your own elf sleigh—such a clever idea to incorporate into the holiday festivities.

This bold edge-to-edge art by Simona Sanfilippo captures your attention. The lively greens, reds, and yellows add to the excitement of elvish shenanigans. I love the closing image of a happy antlered kitty pulling the elf sleigh as Elliott departs for another year.


Read another roundup of 2019 holiday books
here.


Additional Recommended Reads for 2019:

The Tree That’s Meant to Be 
By Yuval Zommer

Dear Santa: For Everyone Who Believes in the Magic of Christmas
By Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrated by John Joseph

 

 

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The Dragon Slayer: Folktales From Latin America by Jaime Hernandez

 

THE DRAGON SLAYER:
FOLKTALES FROM LATIN AMERICA
By Jaime Hernandez
with an introduction by F. Isabel Campoy
(Toon Books/Toon Graphics; $16.95 Hardcover, $9.99 Paperback, Ages 8 and up)

 

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales From Latin America cover illustration

 

The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America, a 48-page middle-grade graphic novel, gives modern readers a way to explore timeless tales. F Isabel Campoy’s Introduction, “Imagination and Tradition,” explains Latin American heritage is “richly diverse, a unique blend of Old World and New, spanning a continent across many geographic boundaries and cultures.”

A “recurring theme in the Latino experience is a celebration of strong women.” In “The Dragon Slayer,” one of three tales in the graphic novel, the youngest daughter is cast out, but her generosity brings her good fortune and, ultimately, a chance to conquer the fearsome seven-headed dragon. In the next story, “Martina Martínez and Pérez the Mouse,” Martina (a human) marries Pérez; soon after mishap befalls him but Doña Pepa’s quick thinking saves the day.

“Tup and the Ants” finishes the trilogy with moral and practical lessons. When three brothers are sent to clear the land for cornfields, lazy but clever Tup enlists the leaf-cutter ants to do his chores.

int spread from The Dragon Slayer by Jaime Hernandez
Interior illustrations from The Dragon Slayer: Folktales From Latin America by Jaime Hernandez, Toon Books ©2018.

 

Noteworthy back matter provides insight into each tale, explaining its cultural significance.

Jaime Hernandez’s illustrations will beguile new generations with humor, memorable characters, and fabulous monsters. This comic is well-suited for visual readers. Released simultaneously in English and Spanish, in hardcover and paperback, Toon Books aims for inclusion. Now celebrating their tenth anniversary, the publisher has over 1.3 million books in print.

Read more about Jaime Hernandez and Dragon Slayer’s special features at Toon Books here.

 A New York Times Editors’ Choice
★ Starred Review – Kirkus

       Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Success www.Write-for-Success.com

@WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Click here for a review of another Toon Book

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An Interview With MG & YA Author Deborah Lytton

THE FANTASTIC LIBRARY RESCUE
AND OTHER MAJOR PLOT TWISTS
Written by Deborah Lytton
Illustrated by Jeanine Murch
(Sourcebooks Jabberwocky; $7.99, Ages 8 and up)

Cover art of Ruby Starr from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists


Read Our Q & A With Author Deborah Lytton

On today’s post I’m excited to share a recent interview I had with author, Deborah Lytton, about book #2 in the Ruby Starr series, The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists, which came out earlier this month. Having thoroughly enjoyed this chapter book for middle grade readers* that includes illustrations of Ruby’s active imagination at work, I can see how much tweens and bibliophiles will gravitate to the series, and this new book in particular, especially since it tackles two important issues: libraries losing funding and friendship predicaments. I especially like that Ruby’s friend Will P is also in a bookclub, something I don’t usually see depicted in stories. Here’s how Sourcebooks Jabberwocky describes Lytton’s latest:

The second book in this fun series that’s perfect for younger fans of the Dork Diaries and Story Thieves series. Ruby Starr is an older Junie B. Jones with a big imagination and a love of reading.

Ruby Starr’s life is totally back on track. Her lunchtime book club, the Unicorns, is better than ever. And she and Charlotte, her once arch enemy, are now good friends. The only thing that’s really causing any drama is her upcoming poetry assignment. She’s a reader, not a poet!

But disaster strikes when Ruby learns that her most favorite place in the world, the school library, is in trouble. Ruby knows she and the Unicorns have to do something to help. But when Ruby’s plans end up hurting a friend, she’s not sure her story will have a happy ending after all.

 

Q & A:

GOOD READS WITH RONNA: Ruby is a charming, book-loving outgoing yet introspective fifth grader. And while she is not perfect she certainly is someone any parent would be proud of. Do you happen to know any Rubys? And if not, how did you wind up with her as a main character for your series?

DEBORAH LYTTON: I do know a Ruby. My inspiration for this series came from my younger daughter who was in fifth grade when I began writing the first book. My YA SILENCE had just been released, and my older daughter was reading it. My younger daughter wanted me to write something for her to read. She asked for a story that would make her laugh. I based the character of Ruby on her initially, but then as I began to write, the character took on her own qualities. My favorite part of writing is when the characters begin to shape themselves. That definitely happened with Ruby Starr.

GRWR: What do you love most about her? 

DL: I love that Ruby makes a lot of mistakes, but always tries to fix them. My favorite thing about Ruby is her kindness. She thinks about other people and their feelings and tries to help them when she can. This is a quality I truly admire. I also enjoy writing Ruby because she is so imaginative.

GRWR: I realize this is book #2 in the series but yet I felt fully up-to-speed. Can you please tell readers briefly what happens in book #1? 

DL: I am so happy to hear that you felt up-to-speed! It was really important to me to write a second book that would let readers jump right in. Book #1 establishes Ruby’s character and her love for reading. The story centers on friendship troubles. When a new girl joins Ruby’s fifth grade class, she begins pulling Ruby’s friends away from her. Then she threatens to destroy Ruby’s book club. Ruby has a difficult time, and then she learns something about the new girl that changes everything. Ultimately, books bring the friends together.

GRWR: Is there a book #3 on the horizon? 

DL: Yes, I am really excited about Ruby’s third adventure. I have just finished the manuscript and I can tell you that Ruby and her friends get into a little bit of a mix-up and that it all begins with a very special book.

int art from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists
Interior illustration from The Fantastic Library Rescue and Other Major Plot Twists by Deborah Lytton with art by Jeanine Murch, Sourcebook Jabberwocky ©2018.

GRWR: As a kidlit reviewer I love that Ruby is in a book club (The Unicorns), and as a writer I love Ruby’s vivid imagination. Did your own childhood inform these traits or did you feel she’d need these qualities to be a role model for tweens or someone many young readers could relate to?

DL: Growing up, my sister and I were like Ruby. We loved reading. Both of us cherish books and have saved many of our favorites from when we were young readers. My own daughters also love to read. In spending time helping out in their school classrooms and libraries, I have seen how many students enjoy books. I loved the idea that a fifth grade student would be independent enough to start her own book club at school to celebrate reading. Then I thought it would be fun to see where her imagination would take her, especially since she would be inspired by all the books she had read and loved. I hope young readers who have stayed up late just to read the next chapter of a book will connect with a character who is like them.

GRWR: The hero’s journey that Ruby embarks on is to save the school library where the hours have been reduced and new book purchases have been shelved due to funding cutbacks. Was this plot line inspired by stories you’ve seen in the news or even closer to home here in L.A.? 

DL: I have volunteered in the libraries at my daughters’ schools so I have seen first-hand the way that budget cuts have impacted the libraries. I have also helped students search for the perfect book to read and then watched their faces light up when they discover something really special. Libraries are so valuable to our youth. I wanted to highlight that message in this story.

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Smithsonian Series Children’s Books

A Roundup of Smithsonian Series Children’s Books

 

Children’s librarian Dornel Cerro reviews an exciting and inviting variety of nonfiction Smithsonian middle grade books for your curious kids.

 

No Way_Way Are You My Dinner book coverNo Way … Way!: Are You My Dinner? 300 Fun Facts
Written by Tracey West
Illustrated by Luke Flowers
(Smithsonian/Grosset and Dunlap; $9.99, Ages 8-12)

Can food facts be fun? Sure they can … here’s a few examples:
Ever heard of borborygmi? Sure you have, it’s the rumbling sound your stomach makes (p. 38).
Did you know that 16,000,000 jelly beans are produced at Easter? Red is the most popular color (p. 103).
If you’re dieting you may not want to know that by the time you’re 80 years old you will have eaten about 87,660 meals (p. 7).

However, No Way …Way! is not limited to food for humans. Animal eating habits are also included:
Guess what the vampire finch eats … or rather, sucks? (blood from other birds, p. 161).
You don’t want to know what a naked mole rat eats (it’s own poop to aid digestion, p. 187).

No Way …Way! is neatly organized into sections that cover the history of food, holiday meals, unusual dishes (like chocolate-covered cicadas, p. 89), where people eat (imagine eating where Julius Caesar was assassinated, p. 120), what not to eat (raw lima beans become cyanide in your body, p. 202), and more. Short, humorous facts, colorful illustrations, and eye-popping designs (plus a little gross-out factor) make this a fun book to browse. Recommended as “cool,” “awesome,” “humorous,” and “interesting” by my second and third graders. One of my fourth graders told me she “had to have it!” A great book for beginning and reluctant readers as well as for children who like to browse through books like Ripley’s Believe It or Not and Guinness Book of World Records.

Smithsonian The Moon Level 4 Reader book coverBudding young astronauts and space aficionados will love these engaging early reader books. Each is succinctly and clearly written and accompanied by great photographs.

The Moon
Written by James Buckley, Jr.
(Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers; $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)

The moon has fascinated people throughout history and across many cultures, from worship of the moon in ancient times to the 1969 Apollo Moon landing and beyond. Buckley leads young readers through the history of moon exploration separating fact from fiction (there’s no old man living there). My second graders enjoyed this book for its’ accessible text and striking photographs. The book also contains a handy table of contents and glossary.

 

Smithsonian Home Address ISSHome Address: ISS International Space Station
Written by James Buckley, Jr.
(Smithsonian/Penguin Young Readers. $3.99, Ages 8-9, A Level 4 Reader)

What is the International Space Station? Who lives there? What’s life like miles above earth? How difficult is it to eat and dress in zero gravity? How do you use the toilet in space? Buckley helps children understand daily life at the ISS. A “great book …” commented my third grade Star Wars fans.

 

 

 

Smithsonian The Human Body NewquistThe Human Body: The Story of How We Protect, Repair, and Make Ourselves Stronger 
Smithsonian: Invention & Impact (Book 1)
Written by H.P. Newquist
(Smithsonian/Viking BYR: $17.99, Ages 8-12)

A fascinating and well-researched look at the different parts of the body and how people throughout history have devised ways to repair or replace non-functioning body parts. From ancient surgical practices to relieve headaches (pp 80-81) to inventions of machines to see inside the body (magnetic resonance imaging), Newquist examines the reasons for and the history behind their design. He takes a peek inside our medicine chests and explains what’s inside it and concludes with the development of vaccines to curb the staggering rates of death from diseases like smallpox.

Although the engaging narrative is written for an older reader, the vivid and well-captioned illustrations (yes, there’s a little gross out factor here) will engage younger and reluctant readers who enjoy browsing through Guinness Book of World Records or Ripley’s Believe It or Not. My third graders found it “cool and interesting.”

Smithsonian Curious About Zoo VetsCurious About Zoo Vets
Written by Gina Shaw
(Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $3.99,
Ages 6-8)

Would you like to work in a zoo? Meet some of the many people who take care of the 18,000 animals at the National Zoo (Washington, D. C.). These include veterinarians, animal keepers, and nutritionists, whose work includes wellness check-ups, handling emergencies, preparing food, creating “enrichment activities” to keep the animals engaged (like art activities and chew toys) and more. Wonderful, nicely captioned color photographs allow young readers to visualize what they learn in the narrative. More advanced vocabulary is highlighted in yellow and defined in the book’s glossary. Perfect for individual readers as well as for kindergarteners learning about the roles of people in their community.

Oceans Doodle BookOceans Doodle Book
Written by Karen Romano Young
(Smithsonian/Grosset & Dunlap; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

The Smithsonian’s marine experts have come up with a collection of fun and creative activities to help educate children about the ocean environment. Youngsters are challenged to use a variety of skills with the many activities available in the book. Creativity and imagination are needed for some activities such as designing and drawing a sea monster (“Sea Monsters, Ahoy!” pp. 24-25). Teachers and parents will appreciate the many activities that require various critical thinking skills. Looking at photographs of the skeletal remains of extinct whales, children determine what they may have looked like when alive (“Extinct Whale,” pp. 82-83). Another great one is determining where a floating object might land from a map of ocean currents (“Where Will it Float?” pp.16-17).

Each activity is accompanied by brief background information that supports the activity. For example, “Fish Face, Fish Tale,” (pp. 42-43) notes the more than 27,000 varieties of fish that scientists have discovered. Children then match fish heads on one page to the fish tales on the facing page. Concepts of bilateral symmetry (pp. 36-37) and radial symmetry (pp. 38-39) are explained and children draw the missing half of an ocean animal to reinforce the concept. Turn off the devices and hand this book to your kids guaranteeing hours of fun and learning.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
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Halloween Books Roundup

I love Halloween …

Maybe it’s because fall is my favorite season. Maybe it’s because the weather gets a bit cooler here in L.A. The street where I live gets tons of trick or treaters beginning about five o’clock with the littlest monsters, penguins, princesses and elves making an appearance before bedtime. The creative costumes never cease to amaze me. One year I recall we had a Mozart, a rain cloud and a laundry basket!  I look forward to every shouted TRICK OR TREAT?!  In honor of Halloween I’ve put together a varied selection of books to sit down and peruse after they’ve emptied bags and examined their hauls.

Where's Boo? by Salina Yoon
Where’s Boo? by Salina Yoon from Random House Books
For Young Readers, 2013.

WHERE’S BOO? (A Hide-and-Seek Book) by Salina Yoon, Random House Books for Young Readers, $6.99, Ages 0-3. This interactive board book will attract little ones with its velvety-faced kitty on the cover and velvety tail at the end. Parents can help children solve the mystery of where Boo is hiding beginning with a jack-o’-lantern and ending with a door in this die-cut 18 page guessing game. The pictures are sweet not scary, a perfect introduction to All Hallows Eve!

 

 

 

VAMPIRINA SLEEPOVER cover
Vampirina Ballerina Hosts A Sleepover by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, Disney-Hyperion 2013.

VAMPIRINA BALLERINA HOSTS A SLEEPOVER by Anne Marie Pace with illustrations by LeUyen Pham, Disney-Hyperion, $16.99, ages 3-5. Last year’s Vampirina Ballerina was so popular she’s back again and this time she’s hosting a sleepover. While this picture book is not strictly for Halloween, what better time of year than right now to share a vampire tale? Dad helps with homemade spider invitations, Vampirina tidies up, the menu is prepared and the sleepover party begins! Full of the same delightful detailed artwork featuring all the necessary vampire accoutrements including caskets and headstones plus all the not-to-be-missed facial expressions courtesy of Pham, this latest picture book is something to sink your teeth into. Pace throws in puns galore so parents can get a giggle, too. There’s even a pull-out spread to add to its appeal.  This sleepover’s a lids down success.

 

Ghost in The House by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record
Ghost in The House by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record from Candlewick Press, 2013.

GHOST IN THE HOUSE by Ammi-Joan Paquette with illustrations by Adam Record, Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-7. What works so well in this picture book is that it’s not only a cumulative counting book beginning with a little ghost, but it’s a fun read-aloud as well with its catchy rhythm and rhyme. Ghost in the House manages to mix a slightly spooky premise and lighten it with a cute cast of characters including a mummy, a monster, a skeleton, a witch and a little boy. The bonus: No trick or treaters anywhere in sight makes it an ideal read for any dark and stormy night!

 

 

 

Halloween Hustle by Charlotte Gunnufson
Halloween Hustle by Charlotte Gunnufson with illustrations by Kevan J. Atteberry, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, 2013.

HALLOWEEN HUSTLE by Charlotte Gunnufson with illustrations by Kevan J. Atteberry, Two Lions/Amazon Children’s Publishing, $16.99, Ages 4-8. Get ready to boogie to a funky beat that will get your youngsters chiming in. Skeleton’s in a dancing mood, in fact he’s got a whole crew of hustling creatures following his lead, but things keep tripping him up, first a crooked crack, then a cat and finally a zombie’s foot. Here’s the catchy refrain your kids will latch onto:

“Bones scatter!
What a clatter!
Spine is like a broken ladder!”

There’s a hoppin’ Halloween party where Skeleton enters a dance contest, but can he keep it all together?  Let’s see what a friendly skeleton girl and a little super-strong glue can do!

Ol' Clip Clop by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez
Ol’ Clip Clop by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez, Holiday House, 2013.

OL’ CLIP CLOP, A GHOST STORY by Patricia C. McKissack with illustrations by Eric Velasquez, Holiday House, $16.95, ages 6-9. This haunting, well-paced and tersely written story is one you’ll want to tell by a roaring fire while huddled next to your child. The climax, where there’s usually a fright, though not as scary for an adult as it may be for a child, is deeply satisfying. The good part is that it’s actually a happy ending because it’s good riddance to the villain, mean John Leep. This well-off, but miserly and greedy landlord has a cruel fate planned for the widow Mayes of Grass Hollow. He’ll demand the rent in full or evict her, throwing her out into the night on a cold Friday the thirteenth, 1741. Velasquez’s artwork of dark upon dark sets the ominous nighttime mood, with the lightest color being the white of widow Mayes’s cap and mean Leep’s linens. The clip, clop, clip, clop sound of Leep’s horse Major gets more and more frightening as Leep feels he is being followed on his way to the widow’s house. What’s in store for the stingy man as leaves the desperate widow wondering if she’ll lose her home? Will he make it home alive?

Three other books I’d like to recommend are:

Calendar Mysteries: October Ogre #10CALENDAR MYSTERIES #10: OCTOBER OGRE
by Ron Roy with illustrations by John Steven Gurney,
Random House, $4.99, Ages 6-9.

 

 

Substitute Creature by Charles Gilman, Quirk Books, 2013.SUBSTITUTE CREATURE: TALES FROM LOVECRAFT MIDDLE SCHOOL #4
by Charles Gilman,
Quirk Books, $13.99, Ages 9 and up,

 

 

Twisted Myths: 20 Classic Stories With a Dark and Dangerous Heart, Barrons Educational Series

TWISTED MYTHS: 20 CLASSIC STORIES WITH A DARK AND DANGEROUS HEART

by Maura McHugh with illustrations by Jane Laurie,
Barrons Educational Series, Inc., $19.99, Ages 11 and up.

Find these books at your local independent book seller or online today.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

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Friendship The Goddess Girls Way

A tempting twist of myths and mythological gods and goddesses totally perfect for tweens!

Today’s post comes from guest reviewer Leah. Leah is in 8th grade, loves books and her cat Merlin.

AthenaTheBrain.jpg Athena the Brain

(Goddess Girls , Book #1, Simon & Schuster, $5.99, ages 8-12)

by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

In the first book of the Goddess Girl series Athena is the new Goddess Girl at her new school Mount Olympus Academy (MOA).  Athena has to learn so much about being a goddess. She was always the smartest girl at her old school (Triton Junior High) but being here changes everything. Athena has to face a stuck up Medusa and a flirting Poseidon, but her new friends Aphrodite, Artemis, Persephone, and Pandora help her get through it all This book is great for anyone who loves mythology and is perfect for any incoming middle schoolers. It also shows that those new kids can make it in a new school and that friends are always around the corner.

 

7199829Persephone the Phony

(Goddess Girls, Book #2, Simon & Schuster, $5.99, ages 8-12)

by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams

In the second book of the Goddess Girls series, Persephone has to “go along to get along.” Her mother always told Persephone to do what your friends want and not cause problems by being yourself. She never had the voice to speak out, until she meets Hades. Persephone has to find out who she really is, even though her friends and classmates on Mount Olympus think differently.  In the end Persephone learns always to be herself and it will work out. This book is great for any girls having troubles about who you should be around friends.
Visit SimonandSchuster.com for info on all the titles in this popular series.
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Humphrey the Hamster’s on the Case

9780142426692HMYSTERIES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY (Puffin Books, $5.99, ages 8 and up) by Betty G. Birney contains everything a young reader would want: humor, conflict, animals, action, assorted students and teachers, good advice, and great plotting all packed into an enjoyable paperback.

After reading this early chapter book I can easily understand why the Humphrey series is featured on 24 state lists. Humphrey, the classroom pet (along with Og the Frog) stars in nine different books, each with straightforward themes such as SURPRISES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY, ADVENTURE ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and FRIENDSHIP ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY. They also contain the same tight writing, wit and wisdom readers will expect from Birney after reading the first in the series, THE WORLD ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY.

I love a good mystery and with this story I got more than one upon visiting Room 26 at Longfellow School. First there’s the Sherlock Holmes story, “The Adventure of the Red-Headed League,” teacher Mrs. Brisbane is reading the class. Then there’s the classwork where the students are tasked with discovering the mysterious word’s meaning; piewhacked is the first one they must figure out. Piewhacked? But when principal Mr. Morales announces to Room 26 that a substitute is going to take care of the class, the biggest mystery begins to unfold.

Mr. Edonopulous (AKA Mr. E), the substitute, is a puzzle to the kids in Room 26. He’s nice and friendly, but he’s always turning every lesson into some kind of game, he doesn’t assign homework (which has both its up and down sides), and he keeps getting chastised by the co-chairperson of the School Safety Committee (AKA whistle-clutching Mrs. Wright, the PE instructor) for not following the rules. What gives here? Then there’s Thomas and Joey, classmates who should be friends except Thomas’s constant exaggerating and lying has put a wedge between the boys. Humphrey wonders how he can solve this social dilemma. Woven throughout Humphrey’s detective work runs the longest thread and that’s the one causing him the most anxiety – the longer Mr. E remains means the longer Mrs. Brisbane stays away. Did something happen to her? Did she take a new job? Are clues adding up to a ballet career for Mrs. B? Will they ever find out the ending of the Sherlock Holmes story?

There are so many different and interesting story elements at work to hold readers’ attention and make them eager to read on. Plus kids will care about Humphrey because he’s such a compassionate rodent. Humphrey’s Detectionary at the end of each chapter often serves as his observations and commentary on humans, i.e. “It’s a mystery to me why humans enjoy a very frightening holiday like Halloween!”

Solve your kids’ summer reading quandry with MYSTERIES ACCORDING TO HUMPHREY and find fun Humphrey activities and teachers’ guides at www.penguin.com/humphrey. What more clues do you need?

 

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Positively Bob Dylan

ANSWER: Who is Robert Allan Zimmerman?

QUESTION:  What is Bob Dylan’s real name?

Bob_Dylan.jpg
Who Is Bob Dylan? by Jim O’Connor with illustrations by John O’Brien, Grosset & Dunlap, 2013.

This easy-to-read chapter book biography is one of over 50 already published in the WHO WAS? series. Other recent titles include WHO WAS CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS? and WHAT WAS PEARL HARBOR? What drew me into this particular book written by Jim O’Connor and illustrated by John O’Brien (Grosset & Dunlap, $4.99, Ages 8 and up) was my complete lack of knowledge regarding Dylan’s early years, his influences and the fantastic cover art which transported me to Greenwich Village, “the center of the folk music scene in the early 1960s.”

From a very young age, Bob Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota was interested in music and at age ten “decided to learn to play a musical instrument.” After one lesson from a cousin, he decided to teach himself. He then moved onto the guitar, also learning it on his own, and formed a band with two friends called the Golden Chords. Unlike the majority of Zimmerman’s classmates, he was Jewish. Early on he’d make up stories about his background, perhaps trying to create a more alluring persona yet at the same time wanting to keep a lot of personal details private. The book traces his musical journey from his hometown, to university, his arrival in New York’s Greenwich Village, onto Woodstock, back to Greenwich and eventually making a home in Malibu, CA. Readers will also find out about Bob’s various relationships including a very public one with Joan Baez.

Along the way, O’Connor adds fab factoids that round out the book. Three pages are devoted to Early Rock Legends, another enlightens readers as to assorted Dylan aliases throughout the years, there’s one on Folk Songs, on the Civil Rights Movement, Acoustic Versus Electric, Women’s Lib, Woodstock and Dylan’s Musical Universe. Plus, a world timeline and one devoted to Bob Dylan’s life show how much change was going on during his music career.

O’Connor conveys info about Dylan’s life in an objective way, straightforward way, leaving readers to form their own opinions about the man to whom, in 2012, President Barack Obama awarded the Medal of Freedom. Kids first learning about Bob Dylan may be very surprised about his path to fame. I know I was.

– Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

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Fridays Featuring Flintridge – An Interview With Roderick Townley

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On:

Hilary Taber of Flintridge Bookstore Interviews Roderick Townley

RT in restaurantI recently wrote to Mr. Townley to inquire if he would be agreeable to doing this interview with me. It all seemed something like tossing a penny into a wishing well, one of those moments in life when you shake hands with the universe on an agreement that you will both, ever so briefly say “Who knows? It could happen!” When Roderick Townley responded that he would do the interview, I was happy and completely astounded. I wondered what I would ask this “wizard of words?” This author’s writing always seems to have the charm of a fairy tale, the adventure of a contemporary fantasy novel and the depth of a poem. The Great Good Thing, The Blue Shoe, and The Door in the Forest are all among his literary treasures. Each of these works are well written, highly polished, deeply profound, and leave the reader the richer for having read them.

The Great Good Thing, his first children’s book, was published in 2001. Since then, Mr. Townley has continued to captivate readers of all ages. Possessing a rich background as a poet and also as a journalist, Roderick Townley manages somehow to pull on both imagination and reality. He has crafted books that have inspired his fans to create board games, blue shoes, dolls, and gorgeous illustrations. The author confesses that some of these tales once began as bedtime stories and then “grew up” into the wonderful books we know today – full of beauty, magic, mysteries, adventure, danger, villains, and heroes. It indeed makes sense that Townley’s books started as bedtime stories. As Prospero said in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Hilary Taber: What is your full name and where did you grow up?

Roderick Townley: Grew up all around New York City: East Side, Greenwich Village, Brooklyn, Long Island.

coverH.T.: What was your family like? Did they encourage your writing?

R.T.: They read, but were not “literary,” conventional in tastes, but encouraged my writing. My mom always thought I should write children’s books. A decade after her death, I published my first.

H.T.: Who was the greatest inspiration to you in your young life? Is there any one person that stands out in particular?

R.T.: I’ve had encouragers all along the way. Teachers especially, several of whom I saw as father figures after my own dad died. Mostly, though, it was what I read that inspired me. I thought of myself as a poet, and as a teenager was imitating Lawrence Ferlinghetti and (disastrously) Dylan Thomas.

H.T.:  Are there a few writers that you could name that have influenced your writing for children and teens?

R.T.:  Every writer I’ve ever read has influenced me. Bad writers have shown me what doesn’t work; good writers what does. What I look for is intensity (e.g.,James Agee), wild imagination (John Crowley), and depth (Melville, Rilke). You’ll notice that these are not children’s writers. But writing is writing, and in my books for young readers I am always trying for those qualities: intensity, imagination, depth.

41dlFvL3GSL._SY380_H.T.:  I’ve read on your website that when you were a young boy you would write in a notebook, and that writing filled you with excitement that others didn’t seem to notice. What gave you that excitement? Do you still have that excitement now just as it was when you were young, or has it changed?

R.T.: Back then, I was just excited by the story as it unfolded under my racing pencil. It was also exciting to realize that I was creating it–and could change it! What’s different now is that my stories are more dimensional, and I erase almost as much as I write. That makes the process slower and more painstaking. Less “fun” at times, but in the end more satisfying.

H.T.:  I’m a great admirer of your heroine Sylvie from your book The Great Good Thing. If you could close your eyes to enter a more dream-like state and “see” Sylvie, how would you describe what you see?

R.T.:  I see her in motion, a flash of wind-blown hair, quick eyes, dirty knees, disgracefully muddy blue leather shoes. Equally interesting to me is the way others have seen her. The German edition has her sitting in a tree on a sofa (!); the Chinese edition depicts her in stylized woodcuts. And kids send me drawings of Sylvie that are wilder than anything I could have imagined. Every reader meets a different Sylvie, and that’s as it should be.

H.T.: I read that a few of your books begin as a bedtime story to your wife Wyatt. How much of Wyatt do readers see in your heroines like Sylvie, Emily, or Sophia?

R.T.: There’s some of Wyatt, a good deal of me, and a fair amount of our daughter Grace in Princess Sylvie. There’s a whole lot more of Wyatt in the two sequels, Into the Labyrinth and The Constellation of Sylvie, because I consciously wrote her in, as the character, Rosetta Stein. Wyatt, like Rosetta, teaches yoga, and both have the same restless hair–and restless spirit. But Wyatt’s presence in my books has to do with more than her resemblance to certain characters. She’s involved in the whole writing process, from the generation of plot ideas to the elimination of dangling modifiers.

cvr9780689853289_9780689853289_lgH.T.: It would seem unfair not to ask the same questions of you! How much of yourself do you see in your characters Daniel or Hap? Is there a character that you identify with most?

R.T.: I am, in fact, all of my characters, boys, girls, villains, grandmothers. Even the poisonous jester, Pingree. You shouldn’t write any character that you can’t find within yourself.

H.T.: A good deal of your books seem to be infused with poetry. This is not an easy question to answer perhaps, but how do you feel your background in poetry interacts with your writing for children and teens?

R.T.: Children’s literature, at its best, is closer to poetry than to any other kind of writing. I’m constantly distilling, cutting away the unnecessary modifier, the weak verb, the chatty dialogue. And always reaching for the magic that lies just beneath the surface of so-called ordinary life. Those concerns come right out of my apprenticeship a
s a poet.

H.T.: Madeline L’Engle made this statement, “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” Do you agree? If so, why do you think this is true?

R.T.: It’s a striking statement, and reminds me of Philip Pullman, who said there are some themes so deep that they can only be addressed in a children’s book. That is true of a few extraordinary children’s books (Pullman’s among them), as well as of fairy tales and myths, which evoke archetypes of the unconscious. It’s not true, alas, of most “kid lit,” which tends to the cute, the shallow, and the vampiric.

labyrinth_smallH.T.: If books had a genealogy just as people do, what books might be in your family tree of the books you have written? For example, often I have a Harry Potter fan that wants a book similar to the series. So I explain to them that there are such things as “book cousins.”  Some books seem to be related to each other. They are somehow alike. What books might be considered cousins, mothers, fathers, aunts, uncles, grandmothers, grandfathers and so on of your writing for children and teens?

R.T.: Publishers say they are looking for work that’s completely original. That is not true. Often they are looking for something very much like a well-known work–but with a twist. Let’s say, Harry Potter on ice skates. When I wrote The Great Good Thing, I didn’t think it was like anything I’d ever read. Reviewers later said it reminded them of Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, although my book came out a year before hers. Basically, I try for stories that don’t remind me of other stories–why repeat what’s already been done? I leave it to others to discover the “cousins.” Those relatives do exist, but I don’t know about them beforehand and don’t concern myself about them later. Not my job.

H.T.: Are you in the process of writing a new book?

R.T.: I am. In the new novel, tentatively called The Black Rose, a woman disappears during a magic act, and her daughter, Cisley, is determined to find her and bring her back. The girl lives in a glass castle and walks her pet lobster on a golden leash along the seawall each morning. I’m open to suggestions about how it ends.

H.T.: What do you hope for most that your readers will remember after reading your books?

R.T.: Aside from the name of the author? I hope, of course, that they’ll think of the story with delight; but more important, that they’ll be left with a sense of their own inner world, the substratum of magic that is our deepest self.

H.T.: Imagine that you found a book in the woods behind your house. This book is a mystery. It has a short beginning and an equally short ending already written. However, there is nothing written in the middle of the book. You’ve asked around and it seems to belong to no one. In fact, it appears to be very old and possibly entirely magical. Would you finish writing it or would you leave it alone?

R.T.: Oh, of course I’d have a go at finishing it. The hardest parts of writing, for me, are finding the beginning and the end. If those are supplied, I’d be in writing heaven.

H.T.: Imagine an enchantress who has a magical ring on each of her fingers. These rings have magical powers. What does each one do?

R.T.: That’s ten powers, if she has ten fingers. (Does she? Does she have eleven?) I have no idea what her powers would be. If I had a ring, I’d hope it would magically do the dishes and put out the trash.

constellation_smallH.T.: Imagine that the wind is a friend who visits you and Wyatt every so often. What does the wind look like or can you see the wind at all? What do you three talk about?

R.T.: We live in Kansas, named after the Kanza Indians, called “People of the Wind.” Mostly the wind talks to us, rather than the other way around. It circles the house, enters and leaves our lungs, prowls through our poems. Its moods are unpredictable, one day furious (we live in “tornado alley”), the next day sweet natured. The thing I most admire is its fashion sense. Invisible itself, it dresses up in trees, smoke, flying debris, and the smell of violets. It’s why we live where we live.

#

Many thanks to Roderick Townley from all of us at Good Reads With Ronna for his time, his talent, his insights and for bringing us “the magic that lies just beneath the surface of so-called ordinary life.” For more information about his wonderful books for children and teens, please visit www.rodericktownely.com.  Click here now to read Hilary’s post about his novels. Why not tell us your ending for his new novel tentatively titled The Black Rose? We’d love to hear from you.

Do you like fan art? Please click here to see some fab fan art. Find an artistic rendition of Princess Sylvie from The Great Good Thing with quotes from the books all along the edges. A huge tribute to Townley’s work by Shaylynn Rackers!

HilaryTaberStop by the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Check out the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.

 
 
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Fridays Featuring Flintridge – Roderick Townley’s Novels

A Truly Great Good Thing:

The Work of Children’s Author Roderick Townley –

reviewed by Hilary Taber of Flintridge Bookstore

 

I’m beyond delighted to announce that this and next Friday’s posts will be devoted to author and poet Roderick Townley. I will take this opportunity to review three of his children’s novels for those just making his acquaintance and next Friday Mr. Townley will join us for an amazing and inspiring interview. Those of you who are writers won’t want to miss this! For you who are already familiar with his delightful stories, you may empathize that it’s difficult to easily sum up the work of this author. His writing somewhat defies definition. I think Roderick Townley rather likes it that way. He likes to be unpredictable.

I will dare to say that it takes a certain talent that very few authors have to be able to convey such potent meaning in just a few sentences. Additionally, his writing is full of the magical, creative, and wondrous power of fairy tales. Mr. Townley is one of those authors who, through his books, seems to come to the reader and say, “Take my hand for now we are about to go journeying to places unknown, sights yet unseen, and things not clearly understood by anyone. Ready?” I always say, “Yes!” to offers like that, for not many authors are able to provide such unique and original tales. By the end of the story I have always thought very new thoughts, experienced high adventure, and returned to the real world wishing that the book could have lasted just a little bit longer, or even just a few pages longer. The writing itself is so magical that I always end up half convinced that, if I just wished hard enough, the extra pages I want might magically appear. Of course they don’t, but right there is the proof of a good author. Who else could half convince me of such a possibility? Such writing is just like the title of his first book. It is indeed a Great, Good Thing.

cvr9780689853289_9780689853289_lgThe Great Good Thing (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, $6.99, ages 10-14)

“Sylvie had an amazing life, but she didn’t get to live it very often.”

Sylvie has been a storybook princess for more than eighty years. Her trouble is that the story of her amazing life is never lived until a Reader comes along. It is only when the book containing the story of Princess Sylvie is opened and read that she can live her adventures in the storybook. When your life depends on Readers reading and your story is forgotten what can you do? The characters in the book begin to accept the fact that they might never have a new Reader. However, one day, a very special Reader does come, and Sylvie dares to break the rule of all storybook characters, “Never look at the Reader”. Being Sylvie (brave, adventurous, and a Person with Purpose), she takes it one step further and makes a lasting friendship with this Reader. This friendship is destined to change Sylvie’s story forever, but it also offers Sylvie the opportunity to fulfill her greatest wish. Sylvie is finally given a chance to do A Great Good Thing.

41dlFvL3GSL._SY380_The Blue Shoe: A Tale of Thievery, Villainy, Sorcery, and Shoes (Knopf Books for Young Readers, $6.99, ages 8-12)

“Not long ago, in the sunny mountain village of Aplanap, famous for its tilted streets, cuckoo clocks, and Finster cheese, there stood a small shoemaker’s shop. And in the window of that shop was a shoe that fit nobody.”

In this book Mr. Townley invites the reader to follow the adventures of Hap, the goodhearted assistant cobbler to the shoemaker who made the beautiful blue shoe. When the blue shoe looses its magical glow (due to Hap’s theft of one of the precious blue stones), he is sent to work tirelessly in the dreaded mines of Mount Xexnax. However, here in this cruel place, Hap discovers that sometimes life isn’t just about liberating yourself from a dreadful situation. Sometimes it’s about liberating others as well, for Mount Xenax holds many others in slavery. But just how will Hap be able to escape and set everyone else held in slavery on the mountain free as well? What about the blue shoe? Will the blue shoe ever regain its mysterious blue glow and why does it glow? Mary GrandPré, who is now famous for her illustrations for the Harry Potter series, wonderfully illustrates The Blue Shoe bringing to life the cast of characters that populate a world of heroes, heroines, villains, a blue shoe, and one shadowy, mysterious character it would be unfair of me to mention too much about.

8600966The Door in the Forest (Bluefire, $6.99, ages 8 and up)

“Some people claimed it was enchanted; others swore it was cursed; but, really, it hardly mattered what you thought because you couldn’t get to it.”

Daniel and his family live near a mysterious island. This island is impossible to reach, as the island itself seems to jealously guard its secrets with vines, quicksand, and snakes. No one has ever set foot there. While most people are content to leave the island to itself, Daniel is not. He knows he would willingly spend his whole life trying to figure out how to reach such a mysterious place. However, to achieve this dream, it will take a war, a witch (or is she?), and a girl named Emily whose past may be the only key to accessing the island that Daniel will ever find. Now, mix this cast of intriguing characters together with an evil captain who is intent on getting to the island first, and you are ready for an adventure you will not soon forget! The Door in the Forest seems to me to always ask these questions: “How much would you risk, who would you be willing to trust, and how long could you hold out during a dangerous time to attain the impossible thing you have always wanted with your whole heart?”

To find out more about Roderick Townley’s young adult novels Sky and The Red Thread and to learn more about the sequels to The Great Good Thing (Into the Labyrinth and The Constellation of Sylvie) visit www.rodericktownley.com. Also, please join me next Friday for the interview with Mr. Townley as we discuss his writing for children, writing in general, poetry, and the inspirations that have led to his remarkable books.

HilaryTaberStop by the Flintridge Bookstore & Coffeehouse today to pick up your copy of these great books, buy gifts, enjoy their extensive selection of other great reads  and relax over a great cup of coffee.  Check out the website at www.flintridgebooks.com to keep up-to-date with story times, author events and other exciting special events. And when you stop by, keep a lookout for Hilary peeking out from behind a novel.

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Two Heads are Better than One

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What a Pair! Mattie & Mark Miller – Double Trouble ($5.99, Barbour Publishing, Ages 8 and up) is an entertaining chapter book for middle readers that introduces them to the unique culture of Amish Americans. NY Times bestselling author, Wanda E. Brunstetter started becoming interested in the Amish way of life after meeting her husband’s Mennonite relatives  in Pennsylvania. This is the first title in what will be a series.

Meet Mattie and Mark Miller, nine-year-old Amish twins from Holmes County Ohio. These siblings spend a lot of time together, but they sure don’t have a lot on common. Mark is a braniac, who hates sports but loves to play tricks on his twin sister. Mattie is a super athlete who does not like to study and is not a very good student. Whether they are together or apart, there always seems to be some form of chaos going on. Can they ever work together in harmony? Read the book and you’ll find out.

What I like about What a Pair! is that readers discover that even though the characters may come from very different culture than their own, they are kids just like them. They like to do many of the same things and experience many of the same challenges other kids face. In the beginning of the book is a glossary of Amish terms that the author uses throughout the story. Family, food, chores, gardening, celebrations, prayer time, play time and school time are all important parts of an Amish child’s life as we learn reading this book.

In addition to Amish culture, readers discover how important it is to put differences aside and work together when there’s an emergency situation. And since the book is about both a brother and sister, both boys and girls can enjoy this wholesome story. My husband has a twin sister so the antics of the characters in this book really made me think about all the stories they have told me about them over the years. What a pair they are too!

After reading this story, for some interactive online fun, your child will love visiting the author’s website, Amish Fiction for Kids.

-Reviewed by Debbie Glade

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