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Kids Book Review: A story with heart and humor – Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

INKLING
Written by Kenneth Oppel
Illustrated by Sydney Smith
(Knopf BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

 

bk cover art from Inkling by Kenneth Oppel

 

• A New York Times Notable Book
• A New York Public Library Best Book of the Year — top ten selection
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As a fan of Kenneth Oppel’s middle-grade book The Nest, I was just as pleased with Inkling, a lighter, funnier tale with lots of heart. The likeable Rylance family consists of sixth-grade Ethan, eight-year-old Sarah (who has Down syndrome), their famous graphic-novel author-illustrator father, Rickman the cat, and Inkling, the inkblot from Dad’s sketchbook who came to life. Inkling provides the Rylances with what they need—and they each need something different. If you find it farfetched for a main character to be an ink splotch, read this book. The characters have emotionally relatable depths.
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INKLING by Kenneth Oppel int illustr by Sydney Smith

Interior artwork from INKLING written by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Sydney Smith, Knopf BYR ©2019.

 

I enjoy stories without obvious plots and Inkling is just that. Typical middle-grade characters are rendered with fresh perspectives. Ethan struggles to complete the illustrations for his group’s class project, but, unfortunately, he can’t draw; no one knows this, though the class bully Vika Worthington suspects. She’s the best artist in their grade and the daughter of Ethan’s dad’s boss. Throughout, Ethan relives the day Vika tornado-kicked him into a garbage can.

int art by Sydney Smith from INKLING by Kenneth Oppel

Interior artwork from INKLING written by Kenneth Oppel and illustrated by Sydney Smith, Penguin BYR ©2019.

 

Sydney Smith’s illustrations intersperse the text, adding depth and delight. Vika’s furrowed brow is perfectly sinister. Graphic-novel images complement the story line.

Inkling resonates with the underlying grief Ethan’s family is trying to process; unspoken words cloud their days. Adults can appreciate the pressure of raising kids alone, having a special-needs child, or watching their creativity come to a grinding halt. Oppel’s clever plot will make you fall for Inkling and keep you hooked until the end.

If you liked The Care and Feeding of a Pet Black Hole (written and illustrated by Michelle Cuevas, Dial/Penguin, 2017), Inkling hits some similar notes, check it out.

 

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Tween Book Review: Where Will Your Secrets Take You?- Riverland by Fran Wilde

RIVERLAND
Written by Fran Wilde
(Amulet Books; $17.99, Ages 10-14)

 

cover illustration from Riverland by Fran Wilde

 

Starred Review – Booklist, Shelf Awareness

In Riverland a debut (older) middle grade novel by Fran Wilde, Momma promises everything will be all right, but sisters Eleanor and Mike know better. Things aren’t OK, no matter how hard they try to be good. The girls weave stories about how “house magic” will fix whatever’s wrong this time. When Poppa breaks the family heirloom (a glass witch ball), a river appears in their secret hiding place and the girls venture to a place where dreams grow in reeds.

A heron made of metal, glass, and driftwood explains that nightmares are made of “failed dreams, smoke, and the river mist” and that “the same magic that kept dreams and reality apart also held back the nightmares.” Anassa, a snake-headed monster, upsets the balance. As the damage in one world seeps to the next, the sisters try to understand their family’s guardian’s agreement while facing new kinds of danger and the possibility of never returning home. Sisterly love fiercely connects them, yet Eleanor worries her temper dooms her to become like Poppa.

Lines between fantasy and reality blurred long before the enchanted river. The girls and their mother live fearfully in denial, unwilling to admit Poppa’s abusive nature. Though Eleanor’s new friend Pendra and Pendra’s mom (school guidance counselor) surmise something’s wrong, Eleanor keeps up the façade and her friend at arm’s length; without confirmation others are powerless to help.

Riverland depicts children trapped in a dysfunctional home and the ways in which they escape reality. This important book shows a family’s coping mechanisms for domestic violence. Older middle graders and YA readers may be best suited to recognize and process the nuances of this story.

 

 

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SEARCHING FOR LOTTIE
Written by Susan L. Ross
(Holiday House; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Searching for Lottie by Susan L. Ross cover art

 

 

When is a Holocaust book not a Holocaust book? When it’s Searching for Lottie, a contemporary fiction, historical and mystery novel that beautifully and sensitively conveys the connectivity the past has with the present. Author Susan L. Ross’s multi-layered story, which won the Sydney Taylor Manuscript Award and is a PJ Our Way selection, also emphasizes the importance of individual identity, the supportive role of family and friends, and the power of music.

Twelve-year-old Charlie (Charlotte) Roth has an assignment for 7th grade social studies, a family history project. She’s chosen to research her namesake, Great-Aunt Lottie (Charlotte) Kulka, a violin prodigy who likely died during the Holocaust. While living in Vienna, Charlie’s grandmother, Nana Rose (who was Great-Aunt Lottie’s younger sister) and Lottie’s mother escaped to safety in America. “When the Germans invaded Austria, the Jews were at the mercy of the Nazis.” Far from home, Lottie was not as lucky. She had been sent to continue her music studies in Budapest, Hungary so when her mother and sister fled Austria after her father’s arrest, Lottie vanished without a word and was always presumed dead.

Once Charlie begins digging into the past, her Nana Rose starts to reveal some details from the past that even Charlie’s mom wasn’t aware of. First there is the old black and white photo of her namesake. Then, when Charlie is given a diary and eventually a necklace that once belonged to Lottie, bits and pieces of the past begin rising to the surface causing Charlie to wonder whether her Great-Aunt might still be alive. Could she still be in Hungary? Or America? Charlie’s mom reminds her that “The Holocaust was a tragedy that touched every Jewish family,” and there may not be a happy ending. However, with the encouragement of her friends and family, and despite what she may discover, Charlie vows to find out what really happened to Lottie. It’s clear Charlie is going to be learning about herself and her family as much as she will about her long lost relative as her journey into the past continues.

Unusual incidents and people are discovered along the way that pull the reader into the story and make them feel invested in the outcome. It turns out that Lottie had played with the Vienna Philharmonic. Charlie, also passionate about the instrument, would like nothing more than to please her devoted Nana Rose by being selected for the concertmaster position after her upcoming audition. As Charlie prepares for the big day, her crush on a fellow musician, Devin, could become a distraction from both her violin dreams and her genealogical journey but she perseveres.

The many interesting and exciting things happening in every chapter serve to keep Charlie’s mind off the audition and Devin. There is never a dull moment as Charlie delves deeper into the mystery of Lottie’s disappearance. Exploring every lead for her family history project will ultimately give her a greater understanding of how the Holocaust impacted survivors and children of survivors, in Charlie’s case, her grandmother and mother. “‘After I had children of my own,'” ‘Mom said softly,’ “‘I realized––or at least, I understood a bit better—that my mother had to bury the sad parts of her life in order to live happily.'”

Ross has created a vibrant and resourceful young girl in the character of Charlie. Her hunt through history to uncover hidden truths about Lottie, if successful, will surely solve decades of doubt and we’re all rooting for her. It was hard for me to believe that, though based on Ross’s family, all the characters were fictional. They felt so real, their situations so possible. It’s helpful to read the Author’s Note to learn about Ross’s story inspiration. I found myself heading over to the Ellis Island Archives as I was reading the novel because, like Charlie, and the author, I too, have many unanswered questions about my Eastern European family.

Searching for Lottie will get tweens thinking and hopefully talking about the Holocaust, about their own heritage, and how we often need to look to our past before moving forward. I recommend this novel as it’s not only one of hope and inspiration, but it powerfully demonstrates how one determined young girl can make a difference.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

 

 

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Henry & Eva and the Castle on the Cliff by Andrea Portes

 

HENRY & EVA AND THE CASTLE ON THE CLIFF
Written by Andrea Portes
(HarperCollins BYR;  $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

Henry & Eva and the Castle on the Cliff cover art

 

 

Many children’s stories get the parents out of the way by killing them off. New middle-grade series, Henry & Eva and the Castle on the Cliff begins with the newspaper headline “Prominent Environmentalist and Oceanographer Die in Boating Accident.” However, Andrea Portes’s story surrounds this incident rather than pushing it out of the way and moving on. Siblings, Henry and Eva, suffer from this sudden shock but it’s the first of many in regard to their parents’ death.

Details make the story come alive such as Eva’s voice, “[the article in the paper] says that I am twelve and that Henry is ten but it doesn’t say that Henry will be eleven in three weeks and we were already starting to plan his birthday party.” Palpable grief engulfs the kids as they face a new life, one without their folks. Matters are complicated with caregivers, Uncle Claude “the Clod” and his girlfriend Terri “the Terrible,” seeming opposites from Henry and Eva’s parents.

Super-smart Henry has sunken inside himself; Eva tries to cajole him out with silly antics. The kids have a lot to deal with—then the mystery starts! Portes weaves in otherworldly elements in a fresh manner with dimensional and likeable characters. Even the “bad adults” have interesting traits. Levity and humor shine in clever lines of dialogue.

Portes is the best-selling author of two critically lauded adult novels: Hick, her debut, which was made into a feature film, and Bury This. She also writes popular YA novels.

 

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

 

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For Fans of Middle Grade Horror There’s Where the Woods End by Charlotte Salter

WHERE THE WOODS END
Written by Charlotte Salter
(Dial BYR; $17. 99, Ages 10-14)

 

Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Connection

 

Where The Woods end book cover art

 

Twelve-year-old Kestrel’s dark and mysterious world is literally defined by Where the Woods End. And she wants out. Since her mother’s the village witch and her father a lonesome wolf hunter, Kes doesn’t fit in with the other kids. Brushing off their taunting, Kes, instead, utilizes Granmos’s harsh training to destroy grabbers—these beings build bodies resembling their victim’s greatest fear; once they’re complete, your time is up.

With her weasel-like sidekick named Pippit and her tree-living friend, Finn, Kes studies Granmos’s notes, trying to discover a way to the world beyond before her grabber attacks. All the while, other fantastic ghouls (like treecreepers and face painters) loom dangerously.

Salter’s middle-grade horror fantasy novel’s imaginative world with twists and peril will keep you turning the pages. We feel Kes’s plight for redemption and freedom. She’s an outcast in her town and her home, yet bravely tries to make sense of the mysteries. In doing so, her friendships quiver and threaten to break as she becomes more entrenched in her quest. Where the Woods End will appeal to middle-grade readers seeking adventures in creepy worlds.

 

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

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NYT Bestselling Series Hilo is Back With Book 5: Then Everything Went Wrong

HILO: THEN EVERYTHING WENT WRONG
Written and illustrated by Judd Winick
(Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover art from Hilo book 5 Then Everything Went Wrong by Judd Winnick

 

 

“Hilo is Calvin and Hobbes meet Big Nate and is just right for fans of Bone and laugh-out-loud school adventures like Jedi Academy and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.”

 

If you’re not already familiar with Judd Winick’s winning Hilo series of middle grade graphic novels, the newest book, Hilo: Then Everything Went Wrong, releases on January 29 and would be a great time to get on board to find out why the books are so popular with tweens. I’m so glad I did. Even though I’ve jumped in with Book 5, that didn’t stop me seeing the appeal and getting hooked. While the books are episodic, the art, the diverse characters and the plot are so good that it doesn’t matter that I came late to the Hilo party so to speak. It’s easy to get up to speed on the relationships and backstory in this action-packed, fast moving and riotously funny robot rooted series.

Hilo is a robot who has ended up on Earth along with his sister, Izzy. He’s befriended D.J. (Daniel Jackson Lim) and his family along with Gina Cooper. Those friendships are truly the heart and soul of the series because kids will empathize with them and be enthralled by their adventures. Various other engaging characters include Polly the talking cat, Uncle Trout, teacher Ms. Potter, Dr. Horizon, Razorwark and Dr. Bloodmoon. I can’t even pick a favorite because I liked them all or found them interesting in different ways. Even a couple of the Feds came off likable as you’ll see.

The Feds, in fact, want to find Hilo at the same time he and D.J. head off on a risky journey to Hilo’s planet, Jannus, to get answers about his past. Once there, the friends discover that all the robots have mysteriously gone missing and, rather than being a model of a happy, high tech homeland, Jannus has gone backwards with a loss of power. As the boy and robot try to discover what’s happened on Jannus, some crazy stuff is going on back at Vanderbilt Elementary that causes a lot of problems for the kids on Earth and ultimately in space. So many things need to fit into place for Hilo to figure out the puzzle and keep one step ahead. Don’t miss out on this Judd Winick’s rewarding and entertaining series that is ideal for both reluctant readers and anyone “who loves comic books, superheroes, and adventures of all kind.” I honestly loved every colorful minute and am only sorry I missed out on books 1-4! Remember to pre-order your copy today.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel 

 

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A Middle Grade Mystery – The Haunting of Hounds Hollow by Jeffrey Salane

THE HAUNTING OF HOUNDS HOLLOW
Written by Jeffrey Salane
(Scholastic Press; $16. 99, Ages 8-12)

 

book cover illustration from The Haunting of Hounds Hollow by Jeffrey Salane

 

 

The middle grade novel, The Haunting of Hounds Hollow by Jeffrey Salane, is a recommended read for chilly, dark winter evenings. When Lucas Trainer’s family inherits a house from an almost-forgotten relative they move from the comforting familiarity of the big city to Hounds Hollow. For Lucas, making new friends means explaining his undiagnosed disease (his parents call it the Dark Cloud). Adjusting to being in the middle of nowhere is complicated by their crazy new mansion—akin to the Winchester Mystery House with rooms that lead to nowhere and a construction crew that doesn’t stop building.

The town’s history of people disappearing coupled with what may be a roaming pack of malevolent ghost dogs is enough to scare anyone away, but Lucas and his two new friends, Bess and Lens, decide they must uncover what’s going on before it’s too late. Lucas has a mysterious key that he hopes will unlock secrets from the past that continue to have hold of the house and its environs.

This book is suited for kids who like plots that delve into horror. The Haunting of Hounds Hollow takes some dark turns, particularly at the end. If you think your kid will grow into a fan of stories like Stephen King’s Pet Sematary then this tale will not disappoint.

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

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The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher Delivers the Christmas Goods

THE CHRISTMASAURUS
Written by Tom Fletcher
Illustrated by Shane Devries
(Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

cover art from The Christmasaurus

 

The Christmasaurus, a middle grade novel by singer-songwriter and YouTuber Tom Fletcher, brings us holiday magic in a new way. The Earth’s last dinosaur lives at the North Pole surrounded by a hubbub of activity and some awesome flying reindeer, but, he’s lonely. Around the world, young William Trundle, a dinosaur expert, wants Santa to bring him a dinosaur more than anything. The two are bound to meet, but their adventure isn’t what you’d expect.

I like that Tom Fletcher mashes together the struggles kids face at school and at home with our love and fascination for dinosaurs. Add in a bully, an evil villain, and some twists on tradition—and you thought the elves made the presents!—and you’ve got an exciting holiday story. Better still, you will care about William Trundle and the Christmasaurus; the characters have dimension and heart.

Shane Devries’s illustrations add humor and charm. The Christmasaurus is cute, beautiful, and spectacular all at once. Seeing him is heartwarming, but, “believing [in ourselves and in others] is the most powerful magic of all.”

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

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Halloween Horror – City of Ghosts, Ghoulia and Sam Wu is Not Afraid of Ghosts

BEST HALLOWEEN BOOKS 2018
A ROUNDUP
Part 2

 

Halloween clip art

 

interior spread from Ghoulia by Barbara Cantini

Interior artwork from Ghoulia by Barbara Cantini, Abrams/Amulet Books ©2018.

GHOULIA (BOOK 1)Ghoulia book cover art
Written and illustrated by Barbara Cantini
(Amulet Books; $9.99, Ages 6-8)

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

int spot art of Sam Wu running from Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts

Spot art from Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang with illustrations by Nathan Reed, Sterling Children’s Books ©2018.

cover art from Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of GhostsSAM WU IS NOT AFRAID OF GHOSTS
Written by Katie and Kevin Tsang

Ilustrated by Nathan Reed
(Sterling Children’s Books; $12.95, Ages 7-12)

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).

Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts int spot art

Spot art from Sam Wu is NOT Afraid of Ghosts by Katie and Kevin Tsang with illustrations by Nathan Reed, Sterling Children’s Books ©2018.

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

 

 

 

cover art from City of Ghosts by Victoria SchwabCITY 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 Ghosts is 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 Success www.Write-for-Success.com @WFSediting,Christine@Write-for-Success.com

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Let’s Talk Time Tales – Wednesdays With Once Upon a Time

WHAT WE’RE READING
WEDNESDAYS 
WITH ONCE UPON A TIME

Always Time for Books –
A Roundup of Time Related Reads

Books have a way of making time do funny things; slowing us down as we settle into the story and speeding up whenever a clue is about to be revealed. And of course, there is never enough time to read all the books we want to read. There is so much power in the way that books and readers interact with time and we wanted to highlight some of our middle grade favorites here at Once Upon A Time.

 

cover illustration from Saving Winslow by Sharon CreechThe slow and careful buildup of love and trust is the star in Saving Winslow (HarperCollins) by Sharon Creech. A delightful family read-aloud that skillfully weaves empathy, compassion and family into a beautifully realized story, universal, timeless and, dare I say a new classic, in the mold of Charlotte’s Web (without the talking animals). Ten-year old Louie is determined to save a sick miniature donkey even though his past animal endeavors haven’t turned out well. His parents caution him but Louie names his new charge Winslow as a sign of faith and determination in the small creature’s survival. Louie uses his plight as a way to connect with his brother’s absence while serving in the Vietnam War. Saving Winslowcaptures an innocence and steadfast belief in miracles that are real and close at hand. ★Starred Reviews – Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal.
Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9780062570703

 

 

 

cover illustration from Marcus Vega Doesn't Speak SpanishEverything can change in just a few days. In Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish (Viking BYR), Pablo Cartaya shows how much time and place impact who you are. Marcus Vega may look like the average bully—large, silent, and overwhelming—but inside he is just a boy too big for the quiet kids and too small to fill the shoes of his absent father. Marcus is suspended from school for protecting his brother from a bully and decides his time off would be better spent searching for answers from his father in Puerto Rico. With his mother and brother in tow and only a few days to accomplish his goal, Marcus goes down a path of misadventure leading to understanding. A fast-paced journey of self-discovery about the role of family, friendship, and home. Perfect for readers ages 10 to 14. ★Starred Review – School Library Journal. Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9781101997260

 

 

 


cover illustration from Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the VastlanticFor fantasy adventure readers that want to be blown away, Timeless: Diego and the Rangers of the Vastlantic (HarperCollins) written and illustrated by Armand Baltazar is for them. First, the physical book is 400+ pages and weighs a massive 2.5 lbs! But that’s because there are over 150 full color illustrations throughout which pull the reader along the fast-paced story. And second, the premise—our world is 300 years in the future, has collapsed for a minute, and in that time reconfigured with past, present and future worlds meshed all together – without cell phones, electricity. “Diego’s middle school hallways buzz with kids from all eras of history and from cultures all over the world.” Dinosaurs are with robots (mechanical) and tall ships, sort of steam punk but not.

 

Diego is 13 and a mechanical whiz. He and his family live near the coast in New Chicago, a reimagined Chicago and its waterways. Diego has concocted a cool mechanical submarine in order to go to school! The plot goes crazy when Diego’s dad is kidnapped by a villain from Roman times. He’s aware that Diego’s dad is a mechanical genius who can help mechanize the robots and turn the world back to the proper time. Diego’s friends go with him as he tries to find his father. Help from his pilot mother and the Rangers set up this first in a series. I LOVED the vast world building, fast pace and those one-of-a-kind illustrations. Truly, this is what I think could be the next Harry Potter type series which will capture the imaginations of adventure fans all over and for years to come. Best for ages 9 and up. ★Starred Review – Publishers Weekly. Buy the book here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/book/9780062402363

Looking for a good way to spend your time in addition to reading? Meet Armand Baltazar, creative mind behind Timeless on Friday, October 19th at 7 pm for a special book signing and costume contest.

Find event details here: https://www.shoponceuponatime.com/event/book-signing-and-costume-contest-armand-baltazar

  • Reviewed by Jessica Palacios

NOTE: Good Reads With Ronna makes no commission or profit from the sale of any book in this post. Our goal is to encourage the love of reading great books.

 

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Mr. Wolf’s Class – A Graphic Novel by Aron Nels Steinke

MR. WOLF’S CLASS: The First Day of School 
Written and illustrated by Aron Nels Steinke
(Graphix; $18.99, Ages 7-10)

 

Mr. Wolf's Class book cover art

 

Mr. Wolf’s Class: Book #1 The First Day of School  by Aron Nels Steinke is not your mother’s back-to-school middle grade chapter book. It’s a smart, funny, insightful look at fourth-grade in graphic novel format and I enjoyed every page. From the realistic, contemporary dialogue to the perfectly captured facial expressions on the diverse line up of teachers and students, Steinke succeeds in helping readers connect with and care about an assorted and appealing cast of characters. And that’s a good thing since this is Book #1 in a new series that is sure to captivate even the most reluctant kid.

In this first book, we’re introduced to Mr. Wolf, a new teacher at Hazelwood Elementary. In fact, even before Chapter One (there are eleven chapters in total), anthropomorphic artwork full of color and movement shows Mr. Wolf conscientiously preparing his classroom followed by frames of each student, with illustration clues, as a quick and clever way to hint at their personality or issue. There’s new-in-town student, Margot, eager to start school but nervous about making friends; there’s Penny, poor, wiped out Penny, whose constantly crying baby sibling is keeping her from getting a good night’s sleep; there’s Aziza, a dedicated student but slightly snarky; and there’s Sampson, who’s brought something special to school to share at show-and-tell.

As an elementary school teacher and parent, Steinke totally gets this age group and the ever-changing dynamic of the classroom. One minute there’s silent reading and the next there’s chaos. All types of conflicts caused by all kinds of kids can occur throughout the day and Steinke’s chosen a few good ones to portray in Mr. Wolf’s Class. He’s included geeks and smart alecks, thoughtful and mean kids. He’s also got bossy and meek ones, tattle tales and show offs. With that kind of composition, anything can and does happen under Mr. Wolf’s supervision including a missing student, show-and-tell, and a burgeoning friendship. 

I’d like to emphasize here that this book can be appreciated year round for its wit, its engaging illustrations and the delightful depiction of fourth-grade from multiple perspectives. Join Mr. Wolf and his students to see first-hand what’s happening at Hazelwood Elementary.

 

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

 

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Dragons, Friendship and Magic – The Language of Spells

THE LANGUAGE OF SPELLS
Written by Garret Weyr
Illustrated by Katie Harnett
(Chronicle Books; $16.99, Ages 10 and up)

The Language of Spells book cover art

 

Starred Reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 1

Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

In the middle-grade novel, The Language of Spells, homeschooled eleven-year-old Maggie lives in a Viennese hotel with her father. She knows many things, but how to make friends isn’t one of them—until she meets Grisha (a dragon who’s spent decades observing humans and has grown up without doing any of the proper dragon things). Born in 1803, he is the last of his kind. “As the world of men built new and extraordinary things, the world of magic began to decline. No creature lives beyond its own world, and a dragon is nothing if not a creature from the world of magic.”

The Language of Spells_Interior Illo 3

Interior art from The Language of Spells written by Garret Weyr with illustrations by Katie Harnett, Chronicle Books ©2018.

All dragons were summoned to Vienna and, due to the inconvenience of their existence, most mysteriously disappeared. While the Department of Extinct Exotics controls the gold-eyed dragons who were allowed to remain, Grisha struggles to remember what happened to the others. Maggie’s determination to help sets them on an investigative journey. Though they know using magic requires a sacrifice, Maggie and Grisha travel across Europe to fight injustice and face difficult decisions.

The Language of Spells is a different sort of dragon tale—one worth a deliberate read and thoughtful introspection. Each chapter opens with a charming illustration by Katie Harnett. The uplifting scenes enhance the story’s relationships. Weyr’s slow-building, sometimes funny tale has an old-fashioned lyrical feel. The book raises questions about the cost of power, the bonds of families and friendships. When few can see the magic left in the world, does it still exist?

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

 

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World Domination Atomic Frenchie Style

ATOMIC FRENCHIE: SIT. STAY. RULE.
by Thomas E. Sniegoski & Tom McWeeney
(Insight Editions; $14.99, Ages 8-12)

 

ATOMIC FRENCHIE SIT STAY RULE cover illustration

Have you noticed that French Bulldogs are everywhere these days? Perhaps they’re up to something … making the timing for Atomic Frenchie: Sit. Stay. Rule. just right. This non-stop funny middle grade mashup that is part graphic novel, is a perfect late summer read for every kid that aspires to greatness and world domination. You know one, don’t you?

 

int spread with artwork 01 from Atomic Frenchie Sit Stay Rule

Interior illustrations from Atomic Frenchie: Sit. Stay. Rule. by Thomas E. Sniegoski & Tom McWeeney, Insight Editions ©2018.

 

Kirby is no ordinary dog. He’s a power hungry French Bulldog with big plans. He’s just waiting for his chance to escape the prison of his home and his overbearing humans. When his humans pack up the car and strap him into a car seat, Kirby’s life changes forever. At his new home, the dog discovers a secret laboratory and his dream of becoming a super villain begins to be realized. Can his dastardly schemes come to fruition or will his huge ambition be thwarted?

 

int spread with artwork 06 from Atomic Frenchie Sit Stay Rule

Interior illustrations from Atomic Frenchie: Sit. Stay. Rule. by Thomas E. Sniegoski & Tom McWeeney, Insight Editions ©2018.

 

Atomic Frenchie: Sit. Stay. Rule. has a mad scientist with bizarre secrets, a loyal and loveable sidekick turtle, rogue robots, and a host of crazy comic book characters. It’s a fast paced adventure with a super villain that you might actually start rooting for. The best news: this is just the first book in a series so get your kids hooked today by heading to your local independent bookseller to pick up a copy.

 

Learn more about Thomas E. Sniegoski here.
Visit Inside Editions here.

 • Reviewed by Jo Ann Banks 
   www.joannbanks.com
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Step Back in Time to the Fantasy World That is Willa of the Wood

WILLA OF THE WOOD
Written by Robert Beatty
(Disney-Hyperion Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover illustration from Willa of the Wood by Robert Beatty

 

In Willa of the Wood, a middle-grade fantasy novel, twelve-year-old Willa is one of the last woodwitches in her Faeran clan. Willa lives with her mamaw, who teaches her how to communicate with plants and animals. Their kind are called “the old ones” by the Cherokee and “night-spirits” by the white-skinned homesteaders. Though Willa’s streaked and spotted skin blends into natural surroundings, she is as real as any other creature.

The year is1900 and, in the Great Smoky Mountains, Willa’s world is changing. The day-folk build unnatural dwellings from the carcasses of murdered trees and hunt the forest’s animals with their killing-sticks. The Faeran dwindle under the strict rule of their deified leader, the padaran. He demands that the young ones steal from the day-folk. Willa is the clan’s best thief because those who don’t return to Dead Hollow with a full satchel are denied food or physically punished. The padaran convinces them, “There is no I, only we.”

When Willa’s discoveries make her question the padaran’s decisions, she must choose between subservience to her clan’s new ways or accept the consequences of defiance.

The book’s twists will keep you guessing! Beatty pulls you into this captivating world with depth of setting and by showing us Willa’s many facets. Because of the scenes involving death, the padaran’s cruelty, and other complex issues, younger children may benefit from reading this book with an adult. Rich in story and detail, Willa of the Wood satisfies with its conclusion and promises to make readers eager for the next installment.

Willa of the Wood is the first book in a new series by Robert Beatty, known for his #1 New York Times best-selling Serafina series.

 

  • Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt

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

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

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Front Desk by Kelly Yang – A Not-to-be-Missed Debut Novel

FRONT DESK
Written by Kelly Yang
(Arthur A. Levine Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

cover art for Front Desk by Kelly Yang

 

Starred reviews – Booklist, Kirkus and School Library Journal

Where do I possibly begin with Kelly Yang’s FRONT DESK?

FRONT DESK is a timely and needed narrative for so many reasons. And Yang, as demonstrated in her debut novel, is one heck of a storyteller. She’s destined to be an author that kids and adults clamor to meet so they can soak up her pearls of wisdom. Drawing from firsthand experiences and keen insights from when she arrived in America as a Chinese child immigrant along with her parents, Yang’s tale provides many kids a chance to find themselves and find hope inside the pages of this moving middle grade historical novel.

It’s 1993 when we meet our heroine Mia Tang. At 10-years-old, Mia is one of the most empathetic, intelligent, persevering characters of this age I have seen in a long time. The truth is there are so many like her whose voices deserve to be heard. I am grateful to Yang that tweens now have a chance to get to know this plucky protagonist and her struggles. Mia’s family are employed at a hotel with unpleasant owners after working for a short time at a restaurant where they were taken advantage of, then fired shortly after. While the hotel seems like a dream come true at first with free rent, the negatives and danger of managing the hotel take their toll on the family.

One of the moments that broke my heart is when Mia is sitting with one of the “weeklies” at the motel she helps run with her parents. The “weeklies” stay at the hotel for a week at a time, paying a lump sum. An older Black gentleman, Hank, is sitting slumped over, defeated by yet another instance in his life where he is targeted for a crime he did not commit simply because he isn’t White. He’s been labeled for so long that at this point he has no more will to fight. He exposes this vulnerability to Mia, and it is a powerful and haunting exchange. Hank isn’t feeling sorry for himself, nor is he bitter or angry when he has every right to be. He’s just tired, the kind of tired you cannot possibly understand unless you’ve been judged by the color of your skin your whole life. Mia later advocates for him and shows us how you are never too young or too old to stand on the side of justice and equality for all.

Resiliency. Mia and her family, along with the “weeklies” and some other friends, have this in abundance. Even when their own families decline to help them in their hour of need, their community rallies around them so they can take control of their destinies.

I dog-eared many pages to go back and look over for this review, and I’m still at a loss as how best to describe my favorite parts because there are so many. I’ve also purchased more than one copy of this book to give to others. It is one of those stories that will creep into your heart and linger there for quite a while.

FRONT DESK needs to be in every school library and as many homes as possible.

  • Reviewed by Ozma Bryant

Read another recent review by Ozma here.
Check out Kelly Yang’s new global issues video series for teenagers: www.facebook.com/kellyyangproject or www.youtube.com/kellyyangproject.

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