For those not familiar with the series, the book begins with a one-page introduction to eight-year-old Azaleah and the people in her world: her parents, Mama and Daddy, who own a restaurant, her two sisters, older sister Nia and four-year-old Tiana, and her Auntie Sam, who often looks after the girls.
Divided into ten fast-paced chapters, the book begins with Azaleah and her sisters going to their Auntie Sam’s for the weekend while their parents are away. Azaleah has the thoughtful idea to bake chocolate chip cookies as a surprise for her parents’ return. But when they turn out less than scrumptious, horrible even, Azaleah has a mystery on her hands, trying to figure out what went wrong since she had followed the recipe perfectly.
She soon thinks she’s figured out the problem, but after baking a second batch that also doesn’t taste just right, she’s left wondering what went wrong. At this point, Azaleah is determined to solve the mystery, and still bake a perfect third batch before her parents’ arrival.
Azaleah’s first guess at solving the mystery is something that young readers might guess at also (I did!) but the real answer to the mystery might be harder for them to figure out (I didn’t!) despite a planted clue which will encourage them to keep reading until the very satisfying end.
Full-color and bright illustrations are depicted in every chapter, adding to the readability for those children who are reading on their own at this stage but still look forward to seeing illustrations along the way.
Extensive educational backmatter rounds out the book which includes a glossary of nineteen of the more difficult words that appear in the story; Let’s Talk!, which presents different ideas to discuss from the story; Let’s Write!, which gives budding young writers some ideas to write about based on the book’s plot, and a chocolate chip cookie recipe. Yum!
I love a children’s book that treats its audience as intelligent readers and The Scrumptious Life of Azaleah Lane does just that by creating a mystery whose solution will introduce children to a topic they may not be aware of while, at the same time, entertain them with a likable and realistically portrayed cast of characters.
My childhood friend’s mother was from the south and used to attend family reunions when we were kids. Going Down Home With Daddyis exactly how I imagined them to be. Lyons’s story, “inspired by her husband’s heritage and her own” beautifully captures the annual family gathering incorporating every sense in the reading experience. I could see, touch, smell, taste and hear everything through Lyons’s perfect prose from the car ride when Lil Alan’s too excited to sleep to his first glimpse of Granny, “scattering corn for her chickens like tiny bits of gold.” I could smell her peppermint kisses, hear the laughter as more and more relatives arrived, feel the breeze during the tractor ride, taste the hot, homemade mac and cheese and see the cotton field “dotted with puffs of white.”
The story unfolds as the narrator, Lil Alan, realizes he’s forgotten something to share for the anniversary celebration and cannot enjoy himself until he figures out what contribution he can make. When he does, it’s the most heartfelt moment although there are many others in this thoughtful, moving picture book. Minter’s warm illustrations in earthy tones heighten every experience and seem to recall the family’s African roots and connection to the land. I found myself rereading the picture book several times to soak up more of Lyons’s rich language and Minter’s evocative art.
Set in an India of a bygone era, and brought to life with vivid art that spans every page, this unique folktale introduces readers to Jiva even before the title page. In Feast of Peas, Jiva’s life is centered upon gardening and doing all he can to assure his carefully planted peas will grow undisturbed. That however is not to be. Though Javi sings
Plump peas, sweet peas, Lined-up-in-the-shell peas. Peas to munch, peas to crunch, I want a feast of peas for lunch.
his peas keep disappearing. He realizes he must construct obstacles such as a scarecrow and a fence to keep leering birds and other thieves at bay. What Jiva doesn’t realize is that no man-made deterrent will stop the peas from getting stolen if his pal Ruvji gets his way.
While little ones may not immediately pick up on the clever clues planted within the illustrations, older readers and adults will. They’ll also enjoy Ruvji’s not so subtle hints to his friend as he repeatedly smacks his lips and says, “Peas are delicious,” and “I would enjoy a feast of peas.” Jiva is determined to solve the mystery of the missing peas and the tables are hilariously turned when he plots a creative ploy to catch the pea poacher. This charming story of friendship, food and forgiveness will leave readers smiling with Ruvji’s unmasking and Jiva’s generosity and pea-licious punishment that promise a happy ending.
Who knew there were so many things you could do with a feather if you just used your imagination? I love how in Lali’s Feather author Farhana Zia has created this charming picture book inspired by such a simple premise. Think about it. What would you do with a feather if you were a child and found one that was oh so right?
This story, set in an Indian village will captivate youngsters. First Lali finds the feather and, concerned it’s lost, is determined to find its owner. After Rooster, Crow and Peacock do not claim the feather, Lali keeps it to see what it can do. Displaying her creativity to Hen, Duck, Blue Jay as well as her sister and Bapu (father), Lali finds entertainment in the most unlikely of activities such as writing in the dirt, sweeping, fanning a fire, and even tickling her Bapu’s toes. That is until a gust of wind whisks it away. Lali’s animal friends, who enjoyed her feather play, join together to help her get it back when another lost object captures her interest. Coleman’s warm color palette and energetic composition will carry readers from page to page along with Zia’s sweet prose. What a colorful way to engage readers with another country, some of its language, and show how childhood and imagination are the same the world over.
Don Tate’s picture book biography, William Still and His Freedom Storiesis the perfect example of how there is always something new to learn. And when it’s done well, as this one is, I don’t want it to end. That’s why I appreciate the author’s note and helpful back matter so I can read more about The Father of the Underground Railroad.
The son of enslaved parents Levin and Sidney Steel, William was born in 1821 and raised in the free North (as Still instead of Steel) after his father had earned his own freedom and settled in New Jersey. As a young boy William knew the local backwoods like the back of his hands. His life defining moment occurred when, using his knowledge of the woods, he led a former enslaved but now free neighbor to safety some twenty miles away from the clutches of slave catchers.
Once educated, the always ambitious William moved to Philadelphia in 1844. Life wasn’t easy and William barely got by doing any job he could until he landed an office clerk position at The Pennsylvania Anti-Slavery Society. “William’s employers were abolitionists who spoke loudly against slavery.” At the same time, as “freedom-seeking people were drawn to Philadelphia,” William helped however he could. His home had become a “station” on the Underground Railroad and its passengers’ struggles could not be ignored. He chronicled their journeys to freedom in the hopes of reuniting families. But by documenting their individual stories, William’s life and those he wrote about were imperiled when the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act was enacted. He hid his records in a cemetery for safe-keeping.
Despite rising through the ranks at the society, William still earned so little that he quit to start up a coal business. When the Civil War broke out, William prospered. “By the 1870s, he was one of the richest Black men of his time.” William used his wealth for the betterment of Blacks whether helping fund a branch of the YMCA for them or fighting to allow Black Philadelphians’ right to ride on city streetcars. Thirty years before his death in 1902 William published his first book, The Underground Rail Road, initially overlooked since it was centered on the African American perspective. Don Tate has lyrically and lovingly brought William’s story to us to honor both the man and all the other “free Black Philadelphians who worked tirelessly on behalf of their people.” His evocative illustrations bring a sense of time and place to this powerful biography and raise awareness of William Still’s important role in history.
The Theodor Seuss Geisel Honor Award-winning series
This easy-to-read series provides just the right combination of fun and mystery to earn new fans while it continues to satisfy old ones. This sixth book, King & Kayla and the Case of The Unhappy Neighborincludes five fast-paced chapters with adorable illustrations on every page.
If you know newly independent readers who are drawn to stories where they’ll have to figure things out, they’ll be delighted to meet King and Kayla, the dog and human detective duo. If they have trouble solving the mystery, the humorous illustrations showing King’s observations should help.
Told from King’s point of view, this book begins with Kayla’s friend Jillian explaining how her puppy Thor got into a neighbor’s yard and supposedly dug it up. Mr. Gary and Jillian’s mom were cleaning up the mess when Kayla and King stopped by. It certainly did not look like the kind of mess that little Thor could muster and that got Kayla thinking. Using her critical thinking skills and asking the right questions, Kayla notes that:
•Mr. Gary saw Thor in his yard last night. – True. Thor was chasing a cat. •Thor doesn’t like tomatoes, carrots or strawberries. – All partially eaten evidence in addition to a pile of poop left on the lawn. •Thor isn’t big enough to knock over a trash can. – What kind of animal can?
These clues, in addition to learning from King that there’s a new guy in town, help Kayla deduce just who the culprit might be. Will young readers be one step ahead and have their suspicions confirmed? Even if they learn at the same time as Kayla, they’ll be more than satisfied at the outcome and the fun time they had on their mission. Watch out for book #7 coming this spring 2021.
Prepare to fall head over hands (the main character Nina Soni talks with her hands a lot) for this endearing Indian-American nine-year-old in the first book of the terrific middle grade series from Kashmira Sheth. Nina Soni: Former Best Friendis told in first-person with heart and humor and loads of lists.
We meet record-keeping (we learn so much this way), loyal and easily side-tracked, Nina, right as she’s having what she believes is a major falling out with her best friend, Jay. Why? She accidentally knocked over his school project. On top of that she’s got to come up with an idea for her class Personal Narrative Project and time is running out. The good news is that her teacher tells her the project can be a list of observations. Well, that takes a bit of pressure off of her. Or does it?
Between her younger sister’s upcoming birthday party, trying to figure out what’s going on with her “former best friend,” and picking a project she can tackle, Nina’s finding it hard to stay focused. When a lesson about scientist Alexander Fleming’s chance discovery of penicillin inspires Nina to pay closer attention to her own experiments, her discovery yields interesting results. That those results also help save the day at her sister’s birthday party and shed new light on her former friendship with Jay is a resolution readers will love.
With a B.S. in Microbiology, Sheth brings a welcome STEAM approach to the series which now consists of three books. She also infuses Indian culture, cuisine and Hindi language into the stories meaning it’s best to read the books on a full tummy or with snacks nearby. Kocsmiersky’ spot art throughout the book adds extra appeal to the series for those moving onto middle grade novels from chapter books.
Reviews by Ronna Mandel
Click herefor a link to another #ReadYourWorld post: Five Diverse Books for Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 by Christine Van Zandt
Multicultural Children’s Book Day 2021 (1/29/21) is in its 8th year! This non-profit children’s literacy initiative was founded by Valarie Budayr and Mia Wenjen; two diverse book-loving moms who saw a need to shine the spotlight on all of the multicultural books and authors on the market while also working to get those book into the hands of young readers and educators.
Eight years in, MCBD’s mission is to raise awareness of the ongoing need to include kids’ books that celebrate diversity in homes and school bookshelves continues. Read about our Mission & History HERE.
MCBD 2021 is honored to be Supported by these Medallion Sponsors!
Join us on Friday, Jan 29, 2021, at 9 pm EST for the 8th annual Multicultural Children’s Book Day Twitter Party! This epically fun and fast-paced hour includes multicultural book discussions, addressing timely issues, diverse book recommendations, & reading ideas. We will be giving away an 8-Book Bundle every 5 minutes plus Bonus Prizes as well! *** US and Global participants welcome. ** Follow the hashtag #ReadYourWorld to join the conversation, connect with like-minded parts, authors, publishers, educators, organizations, and librarians. See you all very soon on Twitter! Hashtag: Don’t forget to connect with us on social media and be sure and look for/use our official hashtag #ReadYourWorld.
Robin Newman’s third early chapter book in the wonderful Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series takes us to Ed’s farm as the mini-sized MFIs (Mouse Food Investigators), along with readers, try to solve The Case of The Bad Apples. For kids who crave seeing justice being served, the MFI’s motto, found on the opening end papers, is a rhyming reassurance: “Whatever the food, whatever the crime, we make the bad guys do the time.”
Fans of fast-paced, tongue-in-cheek detective-style fiction will find all they’re looking for in this latest installment featuring Detective Wilcox, a policemouse, and Captain Griswold. Porcini the pig has been poisoned and he believes it’s from the mysterious case of apples anonymously delivered to him. Of course, he finished most of the fruit, but his hefty appetite is nothing new, and likely not the reason he’s so green about the gills (or snout). Surely someone’s out to get him.
Following standard MFI procedure and employing all the relevant vocabulary (defined in notebook paper style spot art) over the course of five chapters, the rodent pair conduct their investigation leaving no pigsty, truck, or stone unturned. To find the culprit, the MFI team must study all the clues and interview a few farm residents whose names arise as suspects. First, there’s Sweet Pea, the piglet next door. Then there’s Herman the rat, and finally, there’s Hot Dog who may provide a missing link to all the evidence. A few red herrings (or apples) thrown into the mix add to the rising tension. Who, the mice wonder, would want to harm Porcini? Could it be any of the animals who Porcini’s accused of stealing his food?
As Wilcox and Griswold collect the evidence they also rely on a cast of characters such as Dr. Alberta Einswine (the best name ever) from Whole Hog Emergency Care, Fowler the Owl, Yogi the Goatee, and in forensics, Dr. Phil, the groundhog. Newman uses wordplay so well that young readers will LOL as they follow the case looking forward to reading whatever clever dialogue or description may appear on the page.
Zemke’sillustrations add to the humor and suspense. There are maps, diversions and, clues aplenty for wannabe Poirots and Marples including me, and yet I still fell for the satisfying surprise ending. The art clearly depicts the action which can help newly independent readers discern the context.
Each book in the Wilcox & Griswold Mystery series can be read as a standalone, but once a child reads one they are going to want to read the other two. Just the facts. I recommend The Case of The Bad Apples for beginning readers, reluctant readers, and for anyone who wants a fun, pun-filled farm and food-focused caper that will keep them on their toes (or hooves).
Click here to order a copy of The Case of The Bad Apples. e Disclosure: Good Reads With Ronna is now a Bookshop.org affiliate and will make a small commission from the books sold via this site at no extra cost to you. If you’d like to help support this blog, its team of kidlit reviewers as well as independent bookshops nationwide, please consider purchasing your books from Bookshop.org using our affiliate links above (or below). Thanks!
WHO AND WHAT I LOVE ABOUT THIS NEW CHAPTER BOOK SERIES:
Warren Nesbitt, a seven-year-old boy. The realistic relationship (and dialogue) between siblings. Dragon, a 122-year-old dragon who is real and only visible to Warren. Dragon, the stuffed animal everyone thinks is what Warren is always referring to! Warren’s twin sister, Ellie and her quick wit and snide comments. Friendly next-door neighbors, Nia and Paula Berry, are a gay African-American couple with three children. Michael Berry, first-grader and soon-to-be Warren’s good friend. Alison Cohen, Warren’s classmate in Mrs. Tierney’s class. The descriptions of lunchtime in Book 1. The Nesbitt family need to move because Mom, an engineer, has been offered a job in a new city. All of Alison Cohen’s pets in Book 2 and a burgeoning friendship. Warren’s fear of Dragon eating Chewy in Book 2.
In Warren & Dragon: 100 Friends (Book 1),the Nesbitt family move to Eddington. While his sister Ellie is not happy about having to leave all her friends, narrator Warren has his pal Dragon and doesn’t care much. After some goading from his sister, Warren decides to set a goal of making 100 new friends despite feeling uncomfortable doing it. However, there’s no way he’ll let Ellie get the better of him when she proclaims, “There’s no way you’re going to make more friends than me!” Luckily Dragon says he knows how to make friends as long as it involves massive amounts of marshmallows. When Warren’s first day of school isn’t going as well as he’d like, things go further south when Dragon goes missing. Soon he is recovered safe and sound, even content, helping Warren to realize that the experience has taught him how to make a new friend. The book works on several levels, one being the friendship aspect and another being a “new school” story. The sibling, family, and neighbor dynamics also add to the pleasure of reading this first installment in what promises to be a popular series.
Witty dialogue from all the main characters makes for fast flowing, always funny ten chapters in this very entertaining read. Initially I read it quickly, eager to find out how Warren fared in his new school. Then I read it more slowly a second time to see howBernsteinpulled me into her well-crafted tale. Kids are going to want to read every book in the series which is great for two reasons: 1) It’s engaging and relatable and 2) Book 2 is available and Book 3 in the series, Warren & Dragon: Scary Sleepover, comes out in 2019.
Warren & Dragon: Weekend With Chewy(Book 2)had me grinning enormously through all fourteen chapters, vicariously living through the experience of taking a class pet home since I never had the opportunity. In fact I’m not even sure we had class pets when I went to school. Anyway, once again Bernstein’s created a clever premise for this story. Warren gets chosen to take class hamster, Chewy, home for the weekend. He not only has to care for him, but he also has to write a report about it. The catch is, Warren already has plans and they’re exciting. He and his friend Michael from next door are going to construct a chute between their bedroom windows “to trade snacks after bedtime.” Warren convinces Dragon to hamster-sit Chewy so he can focus his energies on ramp building. At the same time, Warren’s twin sister Ellie wants a pet of her own and thinks that, in order for her parents to agree, she must demonstrate responsible behavior. Classmate Alison Cohen gets pulled into the picture when Warren wonders how to write up the report. Before long, everyone’s attention is focused elsewhere and that’s when Chewy goes AWOL. Can the kids find the missing rodent to ensure a happy ending? Things may be looking up, literally, when Warren at last lays eyes on Chewy at his bedroom window ready to take a ride on the “chute-of-doom.”
Malbrough’scharming illustrations, dotted throughout both books, are a welcome addition for children just transitioning to chapter books. These two chapter books confirm that Bernstein knows what type of story will appeal to young readers. I’m looking forward to more of Warren and Dragon’s adventures because anything goes as long as there are marshmallows in the mix!
Review by Ronna Mandel
Find a review of a picture book by Ariel Bernsteinhere.
In her debut chapter book as author-illustrator, Cantini brings young readers Ghoulia, a friendly, warm and purple-loving zombie girl (can a zombie be warm, just asking?) who really has only one wish, to have friends. Stuck inside the grounds of Crumbling Manor, Ghoulia has been forbidden to leave the premises out of fear she and her Auntie Departed, her closest relative, will be made to leave the village should they be found out. In this first book of the series, and at just 64 illustration-filled pages, Ghoulia is a fast and fun read for anyone curious about zombie kids. Ghoulia’s cast of characters includes her Auntie Departed, Shadow the cat, Uncle Misfortune who happens to be a head and ideal candy bucket for Halloween, Tragedy the Albino greyhound and Grandad Coffin, a chess-playing distraction for a zombie granddaughter’s escape on Halloween. Ghoulia pulls off this daring feat (and that could be a pun since her body parts can come off whenever she wants) on Halloween when her brilliant idea to masquerade as herself in order to meet the local children is a huge success. But alas, what will happen when the village trick-or-treaters learn the truth and it’s revealed that Ghoulia’s not dressed up in a zombie costume but actually is one? A secret Monster Society is formed and everyone lives (well that’s not totally true of course) happily ever after. Cantini captures the atmosphere of Ghoulia’s off-beat world with page after wonderful page of whimsical illustrations and a sweet storyline. Book 2, Ghoulia And The Mysterious Visitor is up next in this winning new series so fans won’t have to wait long to find out what’s in store for the charming zombie girl. Several entertaining pages of bonus activities are included in the back matter. • Review by Ronna Mandel
Chapter book, Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts is a good match for reluctant readers because of its simple text, frequent illustrations, and funny asides in the margins or footnotes. As the title implies, there will be a lot of ironic humor; Sam Wu must face his fear of ghosts and reestablish himself in the eyes of his peers after a truly embarrassing incident. Luckily he’s learned a lot from his favorite TV program, “Space Blasters.” Now it seems there’s a ghost in Sam’s house, so Sam and his friends must prove they are brave ghost hunters.
Kids can sympathize with how it feels to not fit in. Sam introduces his friends to his favorite meal (roast duck and turnip cake) and urges them to take just one bite—even though the turnip cake does smell a lot like feet. Doing so, he successfully bridges their cultures using delicious food. Regaining some dignity with his classmates is harder, but Sam Wu demonstrates he’s no “Wu-ser” (as Ralph, the class bully, calls him).
In the closing Q&A, authors Katie and Kevin Tsang explain how they’ve woven some of their own childhoods into the story, showing they are “definitely NOT afraid of answering some author questions.”
Nathan Reed livens up the story with hilarious images of the characters including the evil cat Butterbutt, and Fang, the toughest snake ever. There is visual interest on every page to keep kids engaged beyond the text of the story.
Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts works well as a Halloween book for kids who prefer not-very-scary ghost stories with plenty of laughs. • Review by Christine Van Zandt
CITY OF GHOSTS Written by Victoria Schwab (Scholastic; $17.99, Ages 9-12)
Looking for a spooky Halloween read? Check out Victoria Schwab’s middle-grade novel, City of Ghosts. The story opens when eleven-year-old Cassidy’s birthday gift sends her over the edge (literally) and she drowns (sort of—a boy-ghost named Jacob retrieves her from death). Soon after, Cass is drawn toward something she calls The Veil and discovers that she can cross over into the place where ghosts dwell.
Jacob and Cass travel to Scotland with Cass’s parents whose book The Inspecters (inspectors of specters) is being made into a television series. Cass meets another girl with the same sort of gift in Edinburgh, the city of ghosts. There, mysterious locales harbor dangerous inhabitants; Cass must quickly learn how to survive.
The reveal-and-conceal relationship between the lead characters in City of Ghostsis fascinating. There’s a lot to learn about the other side when adventures through The Veil become more complex. This book explores historical haunts and interesting folklore as the alluring story unfolds in ethereal delight.
Victoria Schwab is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of more than a dozen novels for young adults and adults, including the Shades of Magic series, Vicious, Vengeful, This Savage Song, and Our Dark Duet. • Review by Christine Van Zandt Writer, editor, and owner of Write for Successwww.Write-for-Success.com @WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com
With British royalty in the news so frequently of late, it seems only fitting to share Judy Moody and The Right Royal Tea Party, a brill new chapter book from Megan McDonald that is sure to get readers raring to look up their family trees. As always, this internationally best-selling series features the inimitable artwork of Peter H. Reynolds, bringing the plucky, sometimes stubborn and bossy, but always irresistible Judy Moody to life. Reynolds’ illustrations keep the story fresh and relatable from start to finish.
Judy Moody’s learning about family trees in Social Studies and teacher Mr. Todd wants everyone to research their lineage and report back. Lovable Grandma Lou’s got some interesting facts from her husband’s side of the family including one relative who died a hero on the Titanic and another who, family lore has it, goes back to the time of Queen Elizabeth I. In fact the name ‘Moody’ means brave and that long ago brave cousin might possibly have rescued someone from the Tower of London, the famous prison. Well that’s all Judy needed to hear to decide her ancestry’s tied to that of the current royal family, namely the Queen. It makes sense to Judy since she has a pen pal there already and her favorite color, purple, is the color of nobility. So no surprise that it doesn’t take long for Judy to imagine herself as Queen. She even writes a fab and funny letter to HRH with questions that are sure to crack up young readers. Here’s one of my favorite questions: Can you make someone bring you a snowball in the middle of summer? In true Judy Moody style, this young wanna-be royal creates a castle in her backyard and even digs a moat causing some royal run ins with her brother, recently dubbed Sir Short Shanks.
When visiting a nearby castle with her family, Judy and her younger brother, Stink, spy her frenemy Jessica Finch enjoying a tea party on the premises. Blimey! How could Jessica have all the fun and all the tea? Judy decides she’s going to throw a high tea party of her own, a right royal one. Only things go south quickly once Jessica Finch shares her family tree in class 3T and Judy’s seeing all shades of blue. Does she smell a rat or is she related to its keeper? Crikey! What’s a royal red-head to do? When no one shows up to her party, Judy’s dreams of queendom fade fast. Luckily a pinkie promise to keep a secret secure saves the day and Judy bounces back like any noble blooded royal would.
Filled with kid-friendly facts and puns galore, Judy Moody and The Right Royal Tea Party also includes lots of British English words and expressions explained in the back matter. It feels like McDonald had a terrific time writing the book because it reads so effortlessly and the humor flows from one fun scene to the next. Now that there’s going to be a royal birth this spring, kids will find this timely fourteenth book absotively posolutely the bees knees, no lie!
The wait is over because Ivy and Bean are back! In Ivy + Bean: One Big Happy Family(the eleventh book of the critically acclaimed series), second-grade teacher Ms. Aruba-Tate has the class draw the Important People in their lives. This leads Ivy to wonder whether she’s spoiled because she’s an only child. After the BFFs try various things to test whether this is true, Ivy realizes the “cure” is to get a sister!
As usual, misdirection and mayhem unfold as the girls conjure up creative ways to obtain a sibling. They discover baby sisters are almost as bad as big sisters, leaving only one solution: twins. Although One Big Happy Family tackles a somewhat common premise, the story line goes to unexpected places. Other books involve siblings issues, but Annie Barrows finds new ground in which to grow this story. She continues the series with the humor we expect from adorable troublemakers, Ivy and Bean. Fans and new readers alike will enjoy spending some time with these girls as they traverse their Pancake Court neighborhood, taking life by storm.
Sophie Blackall’s illustrations on each two-page spread convey hilarious facial expressions and silly predicaments. Images and text interweave, boosting these chapter books to something better than each half alone. Carefully placed details add depth beyond the humor. The girls tackle real-life issues but do so in a way only Ivy and Bean can. Their escapades, while outrageous at moments, also work out issues in kid-relatable ways, demonstrating why this series continues to be a hit at home and in the classroom.
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)
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.
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.
Khan’s spare, rhyming text introduces readers to various shapes, but it’s much more than a book about shapes. Every spread spotlights a different aspect of Islam. For example, we learn that a minaret (with a cone-shaped roof) is the tower in a mosque from which the call to prayer is broadcast; a daff is a large circular drum; and the Ka’aba (a word which means “cube” in Arabic) is a holy temple in the city of Mecca. A glossary at the end of the book provides definitions and an author’s note explains the important connection between Islam, shapes, and geometry.
I savored every page of Amini’s exquisite mixed media illustrations. Vibrant colors and detailed patterns, including some incredible tilework, draw the eye in and keep it lingering long after Khan’s lilting, rhythmic text has been read. As an added bonus, every spread depicts a different country (though there’s no mention of it in the main text). In an interview with Deborah Kalb, Khan indicated that Turkey, Tanzania, and Malaysia are represented. I imagine that trying to guess where each scene is set could lead to some terrific conversations.
Usually, shape books are aimed at a very young audience, but Khan and Amini have added so many additional layers to the “shape” concept, that readers of all ages will surely be drawn to this beautiful book. And given that hate crimes against and harassment of Muslims have spiked in the past several years, a book that sheds light on their traditions and family life is especially important. After all, as Khan told School Library Journal in 2013, “Educating kids about different cultures is key to building tolerance and acceptance.”
While readers who practice Islam will enjoy seeing themselves on the pages of this gorgeously illustrated book, as a non-Muslim, I relished the opportunity to learn about some of the traditions, art, architecture, and culture surrounding the world’s second largest religion.
Author Hena Khan is on tour with her new chapter book, Power Forward, the first in a series. Click here to see if she’s coming to your town!
POWER FORWARD: ZAYD SALEEM CHASING THE DREAM (BOOK ONE) Written by Hena Khan (Salaam Reads; $16.99, paperback $6.99, Ages 7-10)
I have to admit—I don’t read a lot of books about sports. But that didn’t stop me from enjoying the first book in Hena Khan’s new chapter book series one bit. I bought a copy of Power Forward (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream) for my nephew at one of Khan’s book signings (the first on her tour) then, as soon as I got home, read the entire thing in one sitting.
Fourth grader Zayd Saleem eats, sleeps, and breathes basketball. He’s on the D team (for now) but with practice he knows he can make the Gold team. Tryouts are two weeks away and he needs all the help he can get. That’s why he bails on his early morning violin practice and plays basketball instead—and he’s actually improving. But when Zayd’s mom discovers he’s been skipping violin and lying about it, the punishment is harsh: no basketball for two whole weeks. And that means no tryouts.
Zayd narrates his tale with a good dose of humor, but the humor never comes at the expense of emotions. We feel deeply for our narrator as he tries to make space for his own dreams while meeting his parent’s expectations. But something’s got to give—and Zayd will need to stand up for himself if he wants to keep those dreams alive.
Family plays a big role in this story and Khan does a terrific job of crafting real characters that we want to spend time with. Zayd’s got an annoying older sister, a fun-loving uncle, an adoring grandmother, an understanding grandfather, and parents who really want what’s best for their son—readers may find themselves wishing for an invitation to dinner.
Sports fans might open Power Forward for the basketball, but they’ll keep reading for the humor, honesty, and cozy warm feeling of being part of the Saleem family. And luckily, they won’t have to wait too long to join the fun again. The next two books in the series hit the shelves soon. Look for On Point (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream, Book 2) on May 29, 2018 and Bounce Back (Zayd Saleem, Chasing the Dream, Book 3) on October 2, 2018. Let’s hope there are many more to come!
TOTO: THE DOG-GONE AMAZING STORY OF THE WIZARD OF OZ Written by Michael Morpurgo Illustrated by Emma Chichester Clark (HarperCollins Children’s Books; $17.99, Ages 8-12)
The beautifully illustrated middle-grade chapter book, Toto: The Dog-Gone Amazing Story of the Wizard of Ozgives voice to Toto, providing an interesting and refreshing viewpoint. Each chapter orients the reader to current day as Papa Toto recounts his adventures to seven sleepy puppies; only Tiny Toto always stays awake until the tale’s end. Kids will enjoy Papa Toto’s sausage cravings—delicious food is scarce on that long yellow brick road.
More than 250 full-color drawings by Emma Chichester Clark create vivid, engaging scenes; Papa Toto is Chichester Clark’s recognizable black scruffy dog. Both artist and writer are masters at their craft. A former Children’s Laureate, Morpurgo has published over 130 books. His novel, War Horse, was successfully adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway play and a Golden Globe-nominated film by Steven Spielberg.
Morpurgo, an expert storyteller, introduces new generations to the timeless Wizard of Oz. Whenever Dorothy says, “Home is home, and home is best,” Toto woofs, “You’re so dog-gone right.” A gentle reminder to appreciate life before a twister strikes.
As the story progresses it becomes clear that Scarecrow, Tin Woodman, and Lion possess what they seek; they just don’t know it. The surprise, of course, is believing in an all-powerful wizard who proves to be “nothing but a humbug, a low-down trickster, a miserable fraudster.” However, with some “upside-down thinking,” the way home is within reach.
A REVIEW & GIVEAWAY FOR BEATRICE ZINKER, UPSIDE DOWN THINKER by Shelley Johannes
Disney-Hyperion sent Good Reads With Ronna a copy to check out, and we’re delighted they’re partnering with us for the giveaway!
Read the review then scroll down to enter the giveaway today!
REVIEW: In Shelley Johannes’s charming debut, Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker, the main character is appealing in a cute and quirky way. She’s someone whose personality will no doubt resonate with many different thinkers when they see themselves reflected on the pages of this delightful new chapter book series for tweens and pretweens.
Beatrice approaches life from a creative and different perspective. In other words, she does her best thinking upside down. Up until third grade, this singular skill has been accepted, even rewarded by her school teachers. But things are about to change as the summer of second grade ends and it’s time to head back to school. Not one to make promises easily unless it’s very important (a running sight gag throughout this illustrated story), and involves her BFF Lenny Santos, Beatrice is dressed and ready for third grade in her ninja attire as was agreed upon when second grade ended. The outfits signified the girls’ participation in a secret plan called Operation Upside that was supposed to be put into action on day one. Then why does Lenny, unrecognizable in pink instead of her brother’s black hand-me-downs, seem to have forgotten? Maybe her new friend and neighbor Chloe has something to do with it and that’s why they’ve also chosen desks right next to each other! Beatrice, on the other hand, has to sit up front, under the watchful eyes of the strict Mrs. Tamarack.
Beatrice is determined to find a way to convince Lenny to reconsider the mission when it’s obvious that, with Chloe now in the picture, the stealth operation has been put on hold. Being an upside down thinker, Beatrice develops an unusual and risky plan that winds up including a dangerous fall and a clandestine visit to the staff room, something no ordinary student could ever concoct. Will Beatrice win back her friend and give Operation Upside a reboot? It seems there’s a lot at stake for this thoughtful third grader whose resilience is demonstrated in the most original ways, and who is certain to inspire young readers rooting for her success.
Johannes does a terrific job of engaging readers right from The Very Beginning, the title of Chapter One. Young Beatrice is hanging onto a branch in the first of many marvelous illustrations “created with felt-tip pen, brush marker, and colored pencil on tracing paper,” and using only black, grays and orange. And it works wonderfully. There’s occasional rhyme and an easy flow from chapter to chapter in this 155-page book kids should breeze through. The problem-solving and different thinker theme is age appropriate and should encourage interesting conversations about creativity, inclusiveness and friendship. The 20 chapters are short and Johannes makes sure there are no loose ends which can sure get in the way if you’re an upside down thinker! I’m eager to see what this amiable tween who marches to her own drummer gets up to in Book#2.
Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
GENERAL DETAILS: Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker By Shelley Johannes Release September 19, 2017 Recommended chapter book for ages 7-10
ABOUT THE BOOK … Beatrice does her best thinking upside down.
Hanging from trees by her knees, doing handstands . . . for Beatrice Zinker, upside down works every time. She was definitely upside down when she and her best friend, Lenny, agreed to wear matching ninja suits on the first day of third grade. But when Beatrice shows up at school dressed in black, Lenny arrives with a cool new outfit and a cool new friend. Even worse, she seems to have forgotten all about the top-secret operation they planned!
Can Beatrice use her topsy-turvy way of thinking to save the mission, mend their friendship, and flip things sunny-side up?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR … Shelley Johannes previously spent ten years in architecture— where she fell in love with felt-tip pens, tracing paper, and the greatness of black turtlenecks. She lives in Michigan with her husband and two sons. Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker is the first book she’s written. Find her online at shelleyjohannes.com.
FIND OUT MORE: Visit the Official Site here. Follow Disney-Hyperion on Twitter and Instagram Like Disney Books on Facebook Hashtags #BeatriceZinker #UpsideDownThinker
GIVEAWAY DETAILS: Be An Upside Down Thinker! One (1) winner receives: Copy of Beatrice Zinker, Upside Down Thinker And branded pencil case and notepad!
Open to US addresses only. Prizing and samples provided by Disney-Hyperion. This giveaway ends 10/12/17 12:00am PT so don’t wait! Enter today for your chance to win a copy and cool BZUDT swag!
THE CASE OF THE POACHED EGG: A WILCOX & GRISWOLD MYSTERY Written by Robin Newman Illustrated by Deborah Zemke (Creston Books; $15.95, Ages 4-8)
You’re eggspecting me to make yolks about this book, right? So here goes!
Eggceptionally funny, Robin Newman’s second Wilcox & Griswold mystery called The Case of the Poached Egg, will completely satisfy fans who’ve been hungry for a new installment following the duo’s Kirkus-starred first caper, The Case of the Missing Carrot Cake.
The trench coat garbed Captain Griswold and the narrator Detective Wilcox are mice on the move. MFIs (Missing Food Inspectors) have to be. It’s an animals steal food kind of world. Always seeking justice for the over 100 creatures on Farmer Ed’s Farm, this pair will stop at nothing to crack a case. So, after taking an urgent call from Henrietta Hen upset over the apparent egg-napping of her “precious Penny,” Wilcox summons his superior to accompany him to the crime scene.
This 48-paged early chapter book not only breaks down the tale into six easily readable chapters, it also cleverly divides actions/events into time and place. For example, Wilcox and Griswold begin their investigation at 10:30am, at the Chicken Coop. There they not only encounter a distraught Henrietta, but an unusually written ransom note too. The game is afoot! I mean an egg! I mean, read on!
The determined MFIs uncover a motive and eventually a culprit, just in the nick of time, using the process of elimination, mounting clues such as a bunch of farm animals oversleeping, a red goose herring (!), thorough questioning of witnesses and possible suspects, and hand writing analysis. All this, which takes place against the backdrop of Farmer Ed’s Big Speggtacular, plus, the cast of colorful characters caught up in the shenanigans including Gabby Goose, Colonel Peck, Miss Rabbit and Porcini Pig makes for amusing dialogue as readers try to solve the mystery along with Wilcox and Griswold. And though, as an adult, I solved the case early on, kids will eat up the chance to play detective and read between the lines, something the format of this clever police procedural actively encourages.
I’m always pulled into a story when there’s a map included, and illustrator Zemke’s created a super one. Her expressive illustrations work wonderfully to add action and emotion to this humorous and accessible story, while also making the thought of reading a chapter book not as daunting for the younger crowd! NOTE: Parents who may read this book aloud should not miss the legal disclaimer on the front endpapers or the author’s note beginning with “No eggs, chickens, geese or roosters were harmed …” I’m ready for another serving of Wilcox & Griswold, yes, ready indeed!
The Snow Queen Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara Barefoot Books; $9.99; Chapter book for ages 8 and up
The Snow Queen Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova Minedition; $19.99; Picture book for ages 5 and up
To those in the USA who are busy surviving snow storms and blizzards, winter might seem like a curse. For those who are stifling under drought conditions, snow must seem like a fleeting, magical element. The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen combines the danger and wonder of snow in an imaginative tale. When a shard of an evil mirror pierces his eye, Kay sees only the bad in the world. This makes him easy prey for the Snow Queen, who kidnaps him. Kay’s best friend Gerda decides to rescue him. To do so, she must set out on a long and arduous journey where she encounters talking birds and animals, magical flowers, an enchantress, a robber girl, and a princess. Gerda’s love for her friend is her greatest help, and she battles the bitter cold to reach the Snow Queen’s icy palace. There, Gerda frees Kay from his frozen heart and the Snow Queen’s grasp.
It’s little wonder that this fantastical story continues to be retold, even 171 years after its original publication. Here are two retellings of this tale of friendship and courage.
The Snow Queen Retold by Sarah Lowes and illustrated by Miss Clara Barefoot Books: Step Inside A Story; $9.99
With “accelerated vocabulary and complex sentence structure for the confident reader,” Barefoot Books presents its adapted version as a chapter book for ages eight and up. At 64 pages within seven chapters, the book is a good length for that age group. Here’s a taste of this exciting story:
The bags of provisions were taken and Gerda was dragged from the saddle. Her arms were pinned behind her, and a bony robber with bristling eyebrows and a hairy chin prodded and poked at her new clothes. “Quite the little lady…” he murmured as he drew his sharp dagger and held it to her throat.
“No!” shouted a clear, commanding young voice.
What I greatly enjoyed about this version was the evocative art by French artist, Miss Clara. Whimsical illustrations produce an ethereal sense of people and places. The jacket description states that Miss Clara first creates maquettes (scale models of unfinished sculptures), which she then photographs. Next, she works on those images digitally. The results are simply beautiful and captivating. I also enjoyed the tangible feel of the book. The cover is made of thicker paper than most chapter books, as are the pages. This made the book in its own way feel more appropriate for chapter book readers, as if they are being recognized as older and entrusted with weightier books. In addition, Barefoot Books states that “we source paper from sustainably managed forests,” which adds to the appeal.
The Snow Queen Translated by Anthea Bell and illustrated by Yana Sedova Minedition; $19.99
Minedition presents its version of The Snow Queen as a picture book for ages 5 and up. Also 64 pages, this edition features large print for easy reading. Here’s the same sample as above:
They seized the horses, killed the coachman, footman and outriders, and dragged Gerda out of the carriage. “Oh, doesn’t she look tender and plump,” said the old robber woman who had a beard and bristly eyebrows. “This little girl will taste good!” And she brought out a sharp, shiny knife. But then she screamed, “Ouch!”… “Oh no, you don’t,” said the little robber girl.
Again, the art work is a huge draw for the book. The icy tones of the multiple shades of blue, silver, and green capture the feel of the cold and the iciness of the Snow Queen’s heart. The illustrations seem delicate and powerful at the same time.
The Snow Queen is a classic, and both versions are excellent versions that will fascinate children.
How do you introduce a younger age group to the adventures and antics of America’s popular classroom pet? With Humphrey’s Tiny Tales, a new chapter book series created for the K-3 crowd by Betty G. Birney. A step up from easy readers, the first two books in the series are sure to attract a legion of devoted fans.
Birney’s award-winning middle grade novels are a mainstay on reading lists across the country so it’s no surprise that both author and publisher would want to share beloved teacher Mrs. Brisbane’s insightful and friendly hamster with chapter book readers. Featuring shorter page counts, delightful illustrations, fewer characters and easier reading level, Humphrey’s Really Wheely Racing Day (Book No. 1) and Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem(Book No. 2) are perfect for holiday break time when reading is not high on many kids’ lists.
In Humphrey’s Really Wheely Racing Day, (Book No. 1), our “positive role model,” rodent is rolling all right! After trying his hamster friend, Winky’s, auto, Humphrey wants a really wheely car, too. A hamster wheel and a ball are okay, but an automobile’s extra exciting, especially when Mrs. Brisbane gets one for Humphrey. Everyone’s even more surprised to learn that Humphrey will be racing against Don’t Complain-Mandy Payne’s pet hamster, Winky, for all the school to see!
In Humphrey’s Playful Puppy Problem (Book No. 2), Richie Rinaldi (school custodian Aldo’s nephew) has Humphrey for the weekend and plans to use him in his science experiment. While Humphrey fears being turned into “Humphrey-stein,” it’s GREAT-GREAT-GREAT when he realizes he’s just going to be timed on his wheel. What he doesn’t like is the WOOF-WOOF-WOOF of Richie’s puppy Poppy with her wet nose and sharp teeth getting too close for comfort. Will she figure out how to open his cage’s lock-that-doesn’t-lock? Will Humphrey save Richie’s experiment so it’s a DING-DING-DING success? Read how a helpful, happy hamster makes everything right.
Coming this spring, Humphrey’s Creepy-Crawly Camping Adventure
Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories by Catharine O’Neill is reviewed by Dornel Cerro.
Starred Review – Kirkus
Cheerful and talkative Annie, and her big brother Simon are back for another adventure in Annie and Simon: The Sneeze and Other Stories written and illustrated by Catharine O’Neill (Candlewick Press, $15.99, Ages 3-8). Each of the four short stories in this second volume focuses on the two very different, yet loving, siblings, delivering gentle messages about relationships, perspective, caring, and sharing.
“Living Things” is a perfect introduction to both characters. The wise-beyond-his years Simon uses his binoculars to observe nature at the lake, while Annie draws what she sees – or thinks she sees. Her scribbly drawings are not always accurate and what she believes she knows isn’t necessarily true. An exchange about frogs is humorous and telling:
“Knees? Frogs with knees? Oh, Simon. Tee-hee. Tee-hee. Tee-hee.”
“Good grief,” said Simon. (p. 5).
Under Simon’s patient tutelage, Annie begins to understand more of the world around her than just what she sees or thinks she knows.
In “The Sneeze,” Annie wants to take care of a sick Simon, but needs his help to do so.
Annie loves cats because they purr and tries to teach her dog Hazel to purr in “Hazel, Hazel, Hazel.” However, when she spies something dangling from a cat’s mouth, a horrified Annie decides that Hazel should just be a dog.
In “Horse Chestnuts,” Annie and Simon find a squirrel has taken made off with their chestnuts. When Annie learns from Simon that the squirrel will need the chestnuts for the winter, she agrees to share.
The quietly-paced stories reveal the strong bond between Annie and Simon despite their differences. O’Neill’s soft and colorful watercolor illustrations are endearing and perfectly complement the warm and inviting stories. Use this as a read aloud for preschoolers, share it with siblings who don’t get along, and give it to beginning readers who are fans of Arnold Lobel’s Frog and Toad series and James Howe’s Houndsley and Catina series (also published by Candlewick). Visit the publisher’s page for more information on this book and links to other books by Catharine O’Neill.