Skip to content

A Review + Interview – Karol Silverstein Interviews Author Elaine Dimopoulos

AN INTERVIEW WITH

MIDDLE-GRADE AUTHOR ELAINE DIMOPOULOS

BY KAROL SILVERSTEIN

 

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow (Book #1)

Written by Elaine Dimopoulos

Illustrated by Doug Salati

(May 16, 2023, Charlesbridge, Ages 8-11)

 

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow cover bunnies fleeing.

e

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow (Book #2)

Written by Elaine Dimopoulos,

Illustrated by Doug Salati

(May 21, 2024, Charlesbridge, Ages 8-11)

 

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow cover rabbit chased by birds.

 

 

INTRO + REVIEWS:

I came to these wonderful books a little backwards—that is, I read book 2 first! The good news is you do not need to have read the first book to thoroughly enjoy the second. The even better news is that both books are equally enchanting!

 

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow int1 Rabbits in Root Room.
Interior art from The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2023.

In The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow, we’re introduced to expert storyteller Butternut. Storytelling is a way of life for her colony of rabbits, led by the wise Grandmother Sage. Along with storytelling techniques, Butternut and her many siblings are taught to stick to their own kind and avoid unnecessary danger.

The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow int2 Fierce Owl Flying
Interior art from The Remarkable Rescue at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2023.

All that changes when Butternut befriends a joyful robin named Piper. Her new first and best friend believes that all creatures have good in them and crave one another’s company. Butternut’s anxieties—which she calls her “brambles”—spin into overdrive when Piper suggests they befriend a wounded faun, but the more she pushes past her fears, the more confident she becomes. When the need for the titular remarkable rescue arrives, Butternut must convince her family to be as brave as she’s become to help save a litter of coyote pups. The experience changes life in the meadow for the better.
 Starred reviews – Booklist, Kirkus Reviews, Publishers Weekly

 

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow welcomes back Butternut and all her meadow friends. But exciting new creatures, a traveling theater troupe of wild turkeys, enter stage right. The talented turkey thespians are marvelous storytellers, which makes Butternut a bit jealous. When the troupe enlists the meadow dwellers to put on a fabulous play, Butternut’s brambles tell her that something’s not quite right with these grandiose gobblers. She senses her friends and family are in danger but struggles to figure out what, exactly, the wild turkeys are up to and how thwart their plans.   Starred review – Kirkus Reviews

 

The first-person storyteller style employed by author Dimopoulos for both books is pitch-perfect, as are Salati’s delicate illustrations. Butternut herself spins her tales with dramatic precision, utilizing tension, foreshadowing, plot twists, and character building as any great writer would. And though the books’ characters are animals, their emotions and motivations are very relatable to human listeners. In particular, Butternut’s “brambles”—which sometimes are overwrought and hold her back and sometimes grant her heightened and accurate insights—are a wonderful metaphor for young readers who are learning to navigate and interpret their own inner thoughts.

INTERVIEW:

I asked Elaine Dimopoulos to tell me a little more about the creation of this delightful duology. Here’s what she had to say:

Karol Silverstein: The tradition of storytelling, begun by Butternut’s Grandmother Sage, is a way of life for the rabbits of Milkweed Meadow. Why rabbits and why storytelling?

Elaine Dimopoulos: In 2017 I moved to a suburban home near a meadow and saw rabbits frolicking on our lawn every morning and evening. They delighted me and my family. I decided to write about a young rabbit who lives on the border of a lawn and a meadow and who grows curious about the human family in the house although her elders have told her to stick to her own kind. The emphasis on storytelling came from my many years teaching writing. I had been rolling craft concepts around in my head for so long—conflict, tension, voice, character growth—and wanted to create a narrator who was an expert storyteller and who commented metafictively on the story as she was telling it. I had a lot of fun creating Butternut’s narrative voice.

 

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow int1 Butternut and Piper.
Interior art from The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2024.

 

KS: Butternut’s “brambles”—which readers will likely recognize as similar to their own worries and anxieties—are an important part of her character. Was her anxiety a characteristic you set out to explore from the beginning or did it develop as she revealed herself to you?

ED: I knew Butternut would have anxiety from the very beginning. I’d noticed an increase in anxiety in the students I taught and began to think about how many children out there were having anxious thoughts these days. I wanted to create a character they might see themselves in, who learns to manage her anxiety, act bravely, and live a full life.

 

KS: In the second book, a traveling theater troupe of wild turkeys comes to the meadow, and the Gobblers entrance the inhabitants with their theatricality. Why wild turkey and why theater?

ED: In addition to rabbits, I have gorgeous wild turkeys on my lawn! The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow is a sequel, and I really wanted to get turkeys into the first novel, but there wasn’t room. I’m so thankful I got the chance to include them in Book 2. Here’s a photo I snapped. They’re such divas!

 

Wild Turkeys in yard of Elaine Dimopoulos

 

 

As for theater, I acted through middle school, high school, and college. I love performing and knew I could write about it with expertise. I also loved the idea of the meadow creatures putting on a midsummer show.

 

KS: Redemption—and characters who change and/or turn out to be different than they first seem—is featured in both books. Why is it important to explore this theme in kids’ books?

ED: It seems to me these days that we are quicker than ever to criticize and slow to forgive. We all make mistakes, adults as well as children. If we change our mind about something and apologize, we should be able to earn forgiveness. This is an important part of human connection. We ought not to lose the ability to extend kindness to each other and to turn the page on the past.

The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow int2 Turkeys and Piper.
Interior art from The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow written by Elaine Dimopoulos and illustrated by Doug Salati, Charlesbridge ©2024.

 

KS: Was there always going to be a second book (or more)? If so, how much of the plot for The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow did you have set in place before publishing the first book? If not, how did you and Charlesbrige decide to continue Butternut’s story, and what sort of decision-making went into creating the storyline of The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow?

ED: I wrote the first novel wishing that I could continue the story of these characters. Nothing was guaranteed, however, so I didn’t focus on setting anything up for book 2. The sequel was happily greenlighted before the first book came out, so I was able to influence, of all things, the map endpapers. I figured out that there would need to be a little clearing in the oak forest where the performance in the second novel would take place and also a swing set clubhouse where Butternut and the little female human from the house would meet. Doug Salati was kind enough to add these elements to the endpapers of book 1 so there would be continuity.

I knew I wanted to include a theatrical troupe of turkeys in the sequel, but I was struggling with Butternut’s central conflict. My editor, Julie Bliven, helped me see that Butternut ends the first novel confident in her storytelling abilities, so it would be interesting if this confidence was shattered when a new art form entered the picture. I ran with this idea!

I hope to write even more stories set in Milkweed Meadow. The first two books are set, respectively, in spring and summer, so I’d love to complete a seasonal quartet and write an autumn and a winter book. We’ll see!

 

Huge thanks to Karol and Elaine for this informative interview!  – Ronna

 

BUY THE BOOK:

Belmont Books (signed & personalized): https://www.belmontbooks.com/book/9781623544270

Bookshop.org: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow a book by Elaine Dimopoulos and Doug Salati (bookshop.org)

Publisher’s Page: The Perilous Performance at Milkweed Meadow – Charlesbridge

 

Elaine Dimopoulos Headshot Photo Credit Ars Magna Studio
Elaine Dimopoulos Photo Credit: Ars Magna Studio

AUTHOR BIO:

Elaine Dimopoulos is the author of several novels for children, including the critically acclaimed Milkweed Meadow series, Turn the Tide, winner of the Green Earth Book Award in Children’s Fiction, and the young adult fast-fashion dystopia, Material Girls. Elaine served as the Associates of the Boston Public Library Writer-in-Residence and has taught writing at Simmons University and GrubStreet. She lives in Massachusetts. She lives in Massachusetts with her spouse, two children, and a Balinese cat named Plato. www.elainedimopoulos.com

 

 

 

SOCIAL MEDIA:

• Author Elaine Dimopoulos

https://twitter.com/ElaineDimop

https://www.instagram.com/elaine_dimopoulos/

• Illustrator Doug Salati

https://dougsalati.com/

Doug Salati Photo Credit: Erin V Carr

ILLUSTRATOR BIO:

Doug Salati is the creator of the picture book Hot Dog, recipient of the Randolph Caldecott Medal and Ezra Jack Keats Award. His first book was In a Small Kingdom by Tomie dePaola, and his second, Lawrence in the Fall by his partner, Matthew Farina, was an Ezra Jack Keats Illustrator Award Honoree, a Society of Illustrators Original Art Show selection and Junior Library Guild Gold Standard selection. Doug lives and works in New York City.

 

 

 

INTERVIEWER BIO:

Karol Ruth Silverstein (she/her/disabled) is an award-winning children’s book author and longtime SCBWI member. Her debut young adult novel, Cursed (Charlesbridge Teen, 2019), was loosely drawn from her experience of being diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at thirteen and won the Schneider Family Book Award in 2020. Originally from Philadelphia, Karol now lives in West Hollywood, California, with two unmanageably fluffy cats. Find her online at
Author Karol Ruth Silverstein.

Share this:

Blog Tour Day 2 for Explorer Academy Vela, The Sailor Cipher

 

BLOG TOUR FOR EXPLORER ACADEMY VELA
Book 1: THE SAILOR CIPHER

Written by Trudi Trueit

Illustrated by Khadijah Khatib

(NatGeo Under the Stars; $10.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

EAVela-BlogTourBanner

 

GoodReadsWithRonna is delighted to share this excerpt from Explorer Academy Vela: The Sailor Cipher (Book 1) available in paperback now. Get ready to get hooked!

 

ABOUT EXPLORER ACADEMY:

Adventure, danger, and school on a ship! In a special school to become an explorer, Cruz Coronado embarks on important global missions with his classmates. But he’s hunted by a murderous threat. A threat that seems linked to his mother’s murder. Cruz hopes that by finding his mother’s clues left around the world, he’ll learn her secret formula and unmask his nemesis.

 

Blogpost #2: Book Excerpt

by Trudi Trueit

 

The first chapter of THE SAILOR CIPHER has Sailor and the rest of Team Cousteau (Cruz, Emmett, Lani, and Dugan), testing the Universal Cetacean Communicator, a helmet which can translate the songs and calls of whales and dolphins into human language! Here, they’re on a boat in the Chesapeake Bay preparing to rendezvous with a pod of dolphins. Cruz is wearing the UCC helmet. The plan is for Sailor to go into the water with him as his dive buddy, while the rest of the team remains in the boat to direct the mission with Fanchon (the tech lab chief who designed the UCC),

Sailor York called it the do-or-die point.

It was the moment right before a mission began. In those tense few minutes, as you waited for the “go” signal, you could either psyche yourself up or psyche yourself out. Everything depended on the choice you made.

It was exciting. It was exhilarating. And it was . . .

Now!

Looking out across the bay, Sailor filled her lungs with one last breath of fresh sea air before lowering the dive helmet onto her head. She was alone but for a fluttering heart and her own thoughts. As her dive buddy, Cruz Coronado, connected the hoses between her rebreathing helmet and oxygen tank, Sailor tried not to think about her shoulders cooking in the September sun or the swim fin pinching her left baby toe or the grilled cheese sandwich doing cartwheels in her stomach. Most of all, she tried not to think about how much was riding on their mission—because the answer was everything.

Do or die.

“Comms check.” Emmett’s voice rang out in Sailor’s helmet. “Oops! Hang on, minor glitch.”

Sailor couldn’t help a snort. In trying to put on a headset thinner than a spaghetti noodle, Emmett had gotten it tangled in his emoto-glasses. Emmett had a passion for technology, and the frames were his own invention. They tapped into his brain waves, changing shape and color based on his moods. At the moment, the circular frames were switching colors faster than a broken traffic light. It was a comfort to Sailor to know that even cool-headed Emmett was as jittery as she was. “Okay, all set,” said Emmett. “Sailor, do you read me?”

“Affirmative.”

When Cruz, Fanchon, Dugan, Jaz, and Lani gave similar replies, Emmett pronounced all comms operational. Jaz let them know the comm link among everyone would remain open throughout the mission.

“My pre-check diagnostic shows all UCC systems are functioning normally,” relayed Fanchon. “Cruz and Sailor, be sure to keep a distance of at least thirty feet between the dolphins and yourselves. Don’t overstay your welcome. Dugan will start the stopwatch once you’re in position. Remember, if you sense any stress or haven’t made contact in fifteen minutes—”

“We’re to break off and return.” Cruz took the words out of her mouth.

Respect for wildlife was their top priority. Everyone knew they were here to communicate with the dolphins, not to disturb or frighten them.

“The pod is a mile northeast of our position, heading due south,” alerted Lani.

“This is it!” Emmett’s voice rose in pitch. “Divers, stand by for ‘go.’”

Sailor’s heartbeat thundered in her ears. She shut her eyes against the blinding diamonds of sunlight reflecting off the water. Exhaling, she pushed away all the thoughts that cluttered her mind—the scorching heat, her throbbing toe, a somersaulting sandwich . . .

“Sailor?” Cruz’s voice was so quiet she barely heard him.

She opened her eyes and turned to him. “Yeah?”

“Thanks for jumping in with me.” Cruz held out his hand.

Sailor grinned and took it. “Any time.”

“GO!”

 

Sailor is in for a BIG surprise over the next few pages. Read THE SAILOR CIPHER to find out what happens next!

 

Author TrudiTrueit 2024
Trudi Trueit, Explorer Academy series author.

AUTHOR BIO:

Trudi Trueit writes the award-winning EXPLORER ACADEMY fact-based fiction series for National Geographic, which has been translated into 20 languages. She is the author of more than 100 fiction and nonfiction titles for kids, including MY TOP SECRET DARES AND DON’TS, THE SISTER SOLUTION, and THE SECRETS OF A LAB RAT series (Simon & Schuster). A Seattle native, she makes her home in Everett, WA with her photographer husband and lives to serve the whims of their three cats. And yes, Trudi Trueit is her real name (by marriage)!

Share this:

Review of 2023 Newbery Winner – Freewater

 

FREEWATER

by Amina Luqman-Dawson

(Little, Brown BYR; $16.99, Ages 10+)

 

 

 

Awards: John Newbery Medal, Coretta Scott King Author Award

An Indiebound Bestseller

Starred reviews: Booklist, Horn Book, Kirkus Reviews, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Connections

 

“A gripping story of friendship, survival, and courage as a group of young children overcome trauma and fear to pursue freedom for themselves and their community.”

 

Freewater is the award-winning novel by Amina Luqman-Dawson published a little over a year ago. It opens with the harrowing flight of two enslaved children, twelve-year-old Homer and his younger sister Ada, from the Southerland Plantation.  Their escape goes horribly wrong when their mother, Ruth, returns to rescue Homer’s friend Anna and is captured. The two siblings,  pursued by slavers and their dogs, stumble into a nearby swamp and flounder in an unfamiliar world.

Bravely forging ahead in the unfamiliar and frightening environment, the children are rescued by Suleman, a formally enslaved man, who takes the exhausted children to Freewater. Homer and Ada are welcomed to this hidden village, a safe haven for its formerly enslaved residents and their freeborn offspring. The supportive community draws the children into their society, beliefs, and traditions, which are based on a complex relationship with the swamp.

Homer, wracked with guilt, is determined to rescue his mother and makes plans to return to Southerland to rescue her. When his new friends learn of this, they help Homer organize a rescue. Meanwhile, at Southerland, clever Anna is making plans to disrupt the plantation daughter’s wedding in order to flee with Ruth. Will Anna manage to escape? Will Homer and his new friends be able to rescue his mother … without getting caught?

In a compelling, multi-voiced narrative, five children, some freeborn, some formerly enslaved, relate the story from their POV. Even the plantation owner’s youngest daughter, Nora, contributes to the narrative, describing her struggle to understand the implications of slavery. Through their narratives, the reader learns about the children’s pasts, secrets, traumas, fears, and dreams.

The author imagines a fascinating world, not just of survival in the swamp, but of a nurturing society and culture flourishing there. Family life and supporting the community are paramount.  Jobs and tasks include weaving vines into rope, hollowing out giant trees for shelters or boats, tending to the crops, and hunting and fishing. Sky bridges made from rope help the community travel safely above the ground where they cannot be seen or caught by slavers or militia. Huge, moving partitions, woven out of branches and leaves are created to close off parts of the swamp for protection.  A few members, like Suleman, stealthily visit the plantations at night to “liberate” supplies (like matches) that cannot be made in the swamp. 

Luqman-Dawson has populated the story with well-developed characters and a richly described setting, both beautiful and deadly. The author does not hesitate to include the horrific treatment of African Americans by white people. Woven into the story’s many dramatic events are moments of friendship, selflessness, joy, and even budding young love. 

The author’s endnote details the historical background including references to African American scholars working on Maroon society in the Great Dismal Swamp, which was the inspiration for this story. Visit Luqman-Dawson’s website to see a video of her summary of Freewater and more resources on the Dismal Swamp.

  • Reviewed by Dornel Cerro
Share this:

Middle-Grade Graphic Novel – Agent 9: Mind Control!

 

AGENT 9: MIND CONTROL!

by James Burks

(Razorbill; Hardcover $18.99, Paperback $12.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

Agent 9 Mind Control graphic novel cover

 

 

I knew I was going to love James Burks’s latest graphic novel, Agent 9: Mind Control! (book #2) from the opening sequence alone. A slick sports car races up swerving roads to the secret lab location of DiViSiON, an evil organization headed by Octopus (aka IQ). Wolf, the novel’s nemesis, emerges from the vehicle and traverses a bridge as a nasty storm unleashes its fury. The dark tones, pounding rain, and the familiar spy tropes of a James Bond film instantly assure us that, like most good spy stories, we’re in for an enjoyable but rocky ride. 

 

 

Agent 9 Mind Control int1 S4 Headquarters
Interior art from Agent 9: Mind Control! written and illustrated by James Burks, Razorbill ©2022.

 

After the scenes switch to a meeting at the headquarters of S4 (Super Secret Spy Service – this book’s equivalent to Bond’s MI6, British Intelligence) Agent 9 and his flying fish sidekick, Fin, learn their new covert mission from O, the big boss. They must thwart the efforts of DiViSiON to steal crucial components needed to construct a menacing Mind Control Device. The Wolf has been contracted to retrieve these items so Nine must get them first. O also informs Agent 9 that he must partner with Traps, a mouse, on this assignment. Used to only being with Fin, Agent 9 is not a happy cat. After all, he’d had visions of winning a spot as Spy of the Month. Working with Traps meant he could kiss that thrill goodbye.

 

Agent 9 Mind Control int2 9 meets Traps the mouse
Interior art from Agent 9: Mind Control! written and illustrated by James Burks, Razorbill ©2022.

 

Burks blends humor into both the dialogue and the art throughout this adventure all while keeping the pace going at breakneck speed. We follow Nine and Traps first to the Rail-Con event on a high-speed train to substitute the real deal with a fake electromagnet. Unfortunately, that does not go as planned. The team thing is also proving difficult despite Traps trying her hardest to help out.

 

Agent 9 Mind Control int3 uncoupling train
Interior art from Agent 9: Mind Control! written and illustrated by James Burks, Razorbill ©2022.

 

Next up is a visit to Quark Labs to grab the compact-sized nanotech battery with unlimited power and infinite possibilities. But “Once again, it appears I have outsmarted you, Agent 9,” says Wolf snarkily who always manages to show up and foil things. Only this time he’s outsmarted by Nine, Traps, and Fin, who sputter away in a slow-moving vehicle in a funny sequence of panels that pit the gang of good guys and gal against the cunning canine. And though it looks like they might succeed this time …

 

Agent 9 Mind Control int4 car chase
Interior art from Agent 9: Mind Control! written and illustrated by James Burks, Razorbill ©2022.

 

… things go south for the trio when Nine is forced by Wolf to choose between the battery or Traps. Soon on his trail again, the spies track Wolf to DiViSiON where he pulls some outrageous moves on Octopus in an effort to wrest sole ownership of the MCD (Mind Control Device). He then turns it on Nine in an act of pure malice. What Wolf doesn’t expect is how teamwork comes through in the end with some clever plotting and a daring and satisfying rescue.

 

Agent 9 Mind Control int5 Wolf controls 9
Interior art from Agent 9: Mind Control! written and illustrated by James Burks, Razorbill ©2022.

 

This top-secret tale takes middle-grade readers into a world of good versus evil where humor adds levity, and characters full of personality promise to keep them hooked. Keep your eyes peeled for some suspicious insect-like creatures lurking around some corners that lead us to a secret lair and a hint of book #3’s next villain. I can’t wait. And remember, there’s no I in team!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel
Share this:

Middle Grade Book Review of Turtle in Paradise – The Graphic Novel

 

TURTLE IN PARADISE:

The Graphic Novel

Written by Jennifer L. Holm

Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau

Colors by Lark Penn

(RH Graphic; HC $20.99, Paperback $12.99, Ages 8-12)

e

e

Turtle in Paradise cover

e

Starred Review – School Library Journal

An excellent way to introduce middle-grade readers to Holm’s Newbery Honor book of family, friendship, and home.

 

In 1935, eleven-year-old Turtle is sent to Key West, Florida to live with relatives she’s never known in the graphic novel adaptation of Turtle in Paradise by Jennifer L. Holm and Savanna Ganucheau. Turtle’s single mother, Sadiemae works as a maid for a New Jersey woman who does not want children underfoot. Turtle, protected by the hard shell for which she’s named, is also protective of her flighty mom and worried about being separated from her. 

Over the summer, she hangs out with her cousins and their friends who are part of the boys only “Diaper (babysitting) Club” (they “wurk” for candy) and spends the summer helping them and her Aunt Minnie while meeting the neighbors, fisherman, and rum runners, who speak about a long lost pirate treasure. Hoping to earn money to help her mother purchase a home, she persuades the others in the Diaper Club to search for the treasure. They find the treasure on one of the uninhabited keys but are marooned there for two days during a hurricane. Happily, they are rescued and Turtle is reunited with her mom. 

e

Turtle in Paradise Page 08
Interior illustrations from Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel written by Jennifer L. Holm and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, Random House Graphic ©2021.

e

Holm’s graphic novel adaptation of her novel doesn’t lose any of the story’s warmth, humor, and dramatic moments. Told from Turtle’s point of view, the graphic novel conveys her gradual emergence from her shell as a caring and plucky girl. As in the novel, family secrets, such as her father’s identity, rise to the surface. Turtle figures out things out on her own, realizing that the answers may not be so important: “… not all kids are rotten … and there are grown-ups who are as sweet as Necco Wafers. And if you’re lucky, some of them may even end up being your family.”

e

Turtle in Paradise Page 10
Interior illustrations from Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel written by Jennifer L. Holm and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, Random House Graphic ©2021.

e

Some minor characters from the novel have been left out (including “Papa” Hemingway) and some aspects of characters are not as deeply developed, such as Aunt Minnie’s true kindly nature. Nevertheless, Savanna Ganucheau (Lumberjanes) captures each character’s nature and circumstances in facial expressions, body language, and actions. Ganucheau’s portrayals of the wisecracking cousin Beans, the overworked Aunt Minnie, and the friendly fisherman Slow Poke (who once loved Sadiemae!) are perfect. The period and the locale of Key West were well researched by both Holms and Ganucheau and that is reflected in both the narrative and the art. Think Necco wafers, sugar apple ice cream (cones are a nickel), Shirley Temple and Little Orphan Annie, the streets of Key West, and the very real 1935 hurricane that stranded Turtle and the Diaper Club and wreaked so much destruction on an area already suffering from economic depression. 

e

Turtle in Paradise Page 14
Interior illustrations from Turtle in Paradise: The Graphic Novel written by Jennifer L. Holm and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, Random House Graphic ©2021.

e

Back matter includes a note from the author which details her family connection to this story as well as some of the historical background. Also included is a fascinating note from Savanna Ganucheau about the artwork (find out more about what went into the artwork here).

Random House Teachers and Educators has a lovely educator guide with information about the book and art here

This graphic novel adaptation can stand by itself or act as a perfect introduction to the novel for middle graders. It should draw in potential readers who will be well prepared for more nuanced character development and a more complex narrative. 

  •  Reviewed by Dornel Cerro

 

Share this:

Middle Grade Book Review – Journey Beyond the Burrow

IT’S A TWO-WEEK COUNTDOWN

UNTIL THE PUBLICATION OF …

JOURNEY BEYOND THE BURROW

Written by Rina Heisel

(Harper/Harper Collins Children’s Books; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

Journey Beyond the Burrow cover

 

 

A JUNIOR LIBRARY GUILD GOLD STANDARD SELECTION!

 

What an action-packed journey! In Rina Heisel’s riveting debut middle-grade novel, Journey Beyond the Burrow, you’ll find yourself entering a world way down low, perhaps a place you don’t often look. After being so caught up in the forest floor escapades while reading, I found myself wanting to tread carefully when putting down the book and stepping onto my bedroom rug.

Readers are quickly introduced to the main character, a resourceful weather scout mouse named Tobin. Everyone in his burrow has a role to play and Tobin takes his responsibilities quite seriously. In fact, he often quotes from the Rules of Rodentia and is a stickler about following them. Not so for his best bud Wiley. He couldn’t be more opposite of Tobin, taking risks and thriving from them. Talia, Tobin’s younger sister, just wants to be accepted by her older brother and his pal. Her fearlessness and smarts make it hard to turn her down on their eventual mission.

When a storm and downed tree threatens the burrow and allows menacing spiders called Arakni to cross a creek into their territory, life suddenly changes for this “little band of misfits.” Spotting a web sack on the back of one escaping Arakni in which Tobin and Talia’s newborn baby brother has been wrapped, the trio embark on a dangerous journey to rescue the “pinkling.” Encounters with hawks, chipmunks, catfish, snakes, foxes, falcons, possums, woodchucks, owls, snapper turtles, and beavers will get your pulse racing since every new woodland creature is a potential predator.

Following the foul scent of the Arakni that stole their baby brother, Tobin and Talia along with Wiley are determined to find the Arakni lair and rescue the pinkling. Things get even more interesting when the mice team up with an unexpected and unlikely ally named Hess. Weaving animal facts with fascinating storytelling, Heisel takes readers across creeks, past orange toadstools, through tunnels, across gorges and hilltops to challenge the Arakni, a formidable enemy every reader will want vanquished.

One close page-turning call follows another and mimics what life must be like for animals in the wild. Each time the team of determined characters seem to be goners, the Rules of Rodentia are put to the test. I wondered at what point Tobin would abandon his rule-following resolve and wing it. When he finally realizes that making up their own rules as they go might be the only option for this risky rescue mission, Tobin, with the help of the others, becomes destined for success. It’s clear how much this journey helped Tobin grow within himself and as a son, a friend, and older brother. This brave weather scout might have to add some new rules to the list after this harrowing but also exciting experience.

It was so great spending time with Tobin, Talia, Wiley, and Hess that when I reached the end I wasn’t ready to leave them. Heisel has introduced a group of well-defined characters to care about and root for. And as Talia says to Hess, “I don’t want to say goodbye, either.” Here’s to reunions!

 

Publication Date: July 13, 2021, but Journey Beyond the Burrow is available for preorder now.

Preorder from Red Balloon for signing copy, bookmark, & sticker: https://bit.ly/JBTB-RB
Twitter: @rinaheisel
Instagram: Rina.Heisel
Share this:

Middle Grade Book Review – Kingston and The Magician’s Lost and Found

KINGSTON AND THE MAGICIAN’S LOST AND FOUND

By Rucker Moses and Theo Gangi

(G.P. Putnam’s Sons BYR; $17.99, Ages 10+)

 

 

KingstonandtheMagician'sLostandFound cvr

 

Starred Review – Publishers Weekly

 

This middle-grade book interested me because there are two authors and I find cowriting interesting—but, wait!, one of the co-authors is a pen name for two people writing together making Kingston and the Magician’s Lost and Found a collaboration of three writers! (To read more about that, check out their interview on SCBWI’s Kite Tales blog in a link below.) Yet, the story reads seamlessly—what a feat!

Twelve-year-old Kingston hasn’t been back to Echo City, Brooklyn, since his father, one of the world’s greatest magicians, disappeared while performing onstage four years ago. A lot has changed in his old neighborhood, yet Kingston reconnects with his cousin Veronica and childhood friend now known as Too Tall Eddie. Kingston’s mother steers clear magic, yet, his uncles don’t seem to have given it up. What happened to Kingston’s father and whether or not magic truly exists fuels the three kids who follow a series of clues, intent on discovering the truth.

This layered plot cleverly weaves in real nineteenth- and twentieth-century Black magicians to make the story feel believable, an aspect I really enjoyed. I’m also a fan of alternative reality books when they’re done well as in this story. Add in humor, friendship, family, and a fast-paced mystery and you’ll see why this book’s hard to put down. Sign me up for the sequel and conclusion, due out this fall.

Visit the website of Rucker Moses here.

Visit the website of Theo Gangi here.

 

 

https://scbwikitetales.wordpress.com/2021/03/31/interview-with-author-rucker-moses/

 

Read a review of another recommended middle-grade novel by Christine here.

Share this:

Middle Grade Fiction Review – Race to the Sun

RACE TO THE SUN

Written by Rebecca Roanhorse

(Disney-Hyperion; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Race to the Sun cvr

 

In Race to the Sun seventh grader Nizhoni Begay can see monsters—such as Mr. Charles, the tall, skinny, blond man who may become her dad’s new boss. This, obviously, is a problem, especially when Mr. Charles tries to kill her the first time they’re alone together! As if that day wasn’t crazy enough, one of Nizhoni’s favorite stuff animals, Mr. Yazzie, a horned toad, comes alive and explains that her coming-of-age ceremony awakened her monster-slaying powers.

When her father disappears, Nizhoni, her younger brother Mac, and her best friend Davery set out on an adventure that calls on their Navajo heritage. On their perilous quest, the kids encounter many obstacles. As Nizhoni embraces the power within, she also begins to understand the mysteries of her family.

I enjoyed learning about some traditional Navajo stories in this fast-paced, suspenseful book that couples humor with deeper subjects such as the importance of heritage and respect for each other and our land. Mythology with exciting action scenes are an appealing combination for middle-graders who enjoy quest novels. If you like Percy Jackson and Aru Shah books, read Rebecca Roanhorse’s Race to the Sun.

Click here for an event/activity kit.

Don’t forget to visit ReadRiordan.com to find out more about the Rick Riordan Presents series.

  •Reviewed by Christine Van Zandt (www.ChristineVanZandt.com), Write for Success (www.Write-for-Success.com), @ChristineVZ and @WFSediting, Christine@Write-for-Success.com

Share this:

Middle Grade Book Review – If We Were Giants

IF WE WERE GIANTS

by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith

Illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo

(Disney-Hyperion; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

If We Were Giants cvr

 

IfWe WereGiants int insert5
Interior art from If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith with illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo, Disney-Hyperion ©2020.

If there’s a book you should read now, it’s If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith. You may recognize the first author’s name as that of the world-renowned musician, environmentalist, and humanitarian. He’s teamed up with children’s book author Smith to write this timely middle-grade novel. Its underlying messages are about pulling together as a community, remembering the past, and taking care of nature. Kids will root for Kirra to find her way, and love the fun elements (such as living in trees and using their collective skills to become gigantic).

IfWe WereGiants int insert
Interior art from If We Were Giants by Dave Matthews and Clete Barrett Smith with illustrations by Antonio Javier Caparo, Disney-Hyperion ©2020.

Hidden inside the walls of a dormant volcano, ten-year-old Kirra’s life is idyllic. Her people, the Zedu, respect nature and collaborate with one another, having assigned tasks. Kirra’s father is the Storyteller, the only Zedu who goes Outside—until recently, when Kirra begins to travel with him and learn this vocation. Her curiosity, however, leads her to make a grave mistake instigating the demise of her village by a violent new group called the Takers who seek only to conquer and destroy.

Jump forward four years and fourteen-year-old Kirra now lives aloft with the Tree People, taken in when she was in dire circumstances and treated with kindness ever since. To get by, Kirra must suppress memories of the past—until those memories become a reality.

The images by Antonio Javier Caparo provide glimpses into Kirra’s world. Framed by intertwining branches, the natural colors underscore the importance of working harmoniously with nature.

I appreciate how the book engages the reader with quick-moving, interesting scenes yet also tackles big issues affecting us today. This story delves into what family means and how you fit in. For Kirra, it’s also a coming-of-age tale as she finally faces her demons and finds her way.
e

 

 

 

Share this:

Middle Grade Book Review – Mulan: Before The Sword

MULAN: BEFORE THE SWORD
by Grace Lin
(Disney-Hyperion; $16.99, Ages 8-12)

 

Mulan: Before The Sword cover

 

As much as I love fables, prior to reading Mulan: Before the Sword, my knowledge of Hua Mulan’s story came mainly from movie trailers. Grace Lin’s middle-grade prequel blew me away. I’m a fan of Lin’s prior best-selling middle-grade trilogy and her picture books, so I was expecting to really like this book; instead, I loved it. The fast-paced story is balanced by gorgeous prose, bringing legendary Asian history to life. Lin’s writing beautifully blends myth, action, and suspense. The opening line, “She disliked it when they transformed into spiders” had me hooked. The story’s viewpoints shift between the plotting, treacherous villains and Mulan’s adventure to save her sister Xiu’s life (she’s succumbing to a poisonous bite from the evil nine-legged spider).

Mulan tries to suppress her adventurous nature and struggles to be a more restrained daughter. Contrarily, Xiu exemplifies all the “right” female traits. Yet, Mulan’s abilities allow her to set off on a quest with the legendary Jade Rabbit where she begins to realize that, just maybe, she’s exactly who she needs to be.

It’s easy to care about Mulan and root for her to save the day. The characters and scenery come alive and tension builds as setbacks delay their progress. En route, Mulan learns of the prophecy that a member of her family is destined to, one day, save the Emperor. Figuring that person must be Xiu, Mulan risks her life, sacrificing for the greater good. Yet, all is not as it seems and this tale wends its way to an amazing conclusion. Mulan, a powerful warrior, also finds compassion for her adversaries.

Lin’s Author Note provides interesting historical detail; Mulan may have been a real person, the first know mention of her was in a fourth-century folk song, “The Ballad of Mulan.” Today, Mulan continues to be a cherished character as Lin skillfully adds another layer to the saga.

Click here to read a terrific interview by Christine with Grace Lin at SCBWI’s Kite Tales of Southern California’s Tri-Regions.

 

 

Click here to read another MG book review by Christine.

Share this:

Five New Halloween Books for Kids – A Roundup Part 2

BEST NEW KIDS BOOKS FOR HALLOWEEN

∼ A ROUNDUP ∼

PART 2

 

 

 

Beneath the Bed coverMISTER SHIVERS: BENEATH THE BED AND OTHER SCARY STORIES
Written by Max Brallier
Illustrated by Letizia Rubegni
(Acorn/Scholastic; $4.99, Ages 5-7)

Acorn books, designed for early readers, brings five scary stories to children in this Mister Shivers series. Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories has 64 pages packed with full-color artwork while some other Acorn books have 48 pages. Either way, there’s something for every new reader seeking “relatable characters and experiences” written and illustrated by some of the best known names in children’s literature.

Beneath the Bed and Other Scary Stories opens with a letter from Mister Shivers about a mysterious box delivered to him in which he found items pertaining to each story and a promise to share the stories in the book. Like all the stories in this book, evocative, muted illustrations help reinforce the easy-to-read text of these fast paced short stories. That’s certainly the case in “Beneath the Bed” about a boy dared by kids at school to visit the local haunted house. Upon entering the house with his sister who he brought along for courage, the pair discover a sinister doll with glowing eyes under a bed in the attic bedroom.

“A Hair Down to My Stomach” as the title implies, is equal parts gross and unsettling, with just the type of visuals accompanying it to make it succeed. “The Statue” will have kids talking back to the book as they turn the pages and tell the mom in the story as her son tries to do, “Don’t buy the statue!” Of course, she does. What follows is the reason why Mr. Shivers’ mysterious box contained a piece of quilty. He never mentioned if it was smelly like the quilt in “The Statue.” All I know is the young boy should have listened to the statue’s owner when she warned the buyers not to remove the quilt. The same goes for Oliver in “A Dark and Stormy Night” who should have done as his parents’ wished and brought his toys inside. Instead, they were left out in the rain to be ruined by the elements. Toys don’t like being forgotten and seek their revenge when that happens. Poor Oliver! And as for the scraping sound in “The Noise at the Window,” I know this well. Only I’ve been fortunate to find a tree outside where I heard the clawing coming from a branch. The little girl in this tale wasn’t so fortunate!

Okay spine, start tingling because these five stories are guaranteed to make you keep the lights on.

The Okay Witch book coverTHE OKAY WITCH
Written and illustrated by Emma Steinkellner
(Aladdin; $12.99, Ages 8-12)

Get ready to be caught under the spell of Emma Steinkellner’s The Okay Witch, a terrific debut middle grade graphic novel.

Tween readers will be charmed by the main character Moth Hush, who at 13 learns she is part witch with special powers, something she had only dreamed of up until that point. Living above her single mom Calendula’s second hand store, Moth has never felt the warm and fuzzies from her classmates in her Massachusetts hometown of Founder’s Bluff nor in the community at large. She soon learns there’s a good reason why and goes exploring back in time via her mother’s diary.

In 1692 a group of women suspected of being witches, her grandmother Sarah being one of them, was run out of town. They were indeed witches but good ones and many townspeople secretly went to them to avail of magic to help them. When ousted, Sarah led the women to a timeless land she created called Hecate, but Calendula refused to live there. She returned to Founder’s Bluff to live a normal non-witch life for herself having fallen in love with a human. Sadly, Sarah cast a spell to make this man have no memory of Calendula. Pregnant, the brokenhearted, Calendula raised Moth alone with no magic.

In school Moth befriends another fish-out-of-water named Charlie who is new to Founder’s Bluff. Little does Moth know that there’s a connection between her family and Charlie’s that could test their friendship. I got a kick out of the magical cat, Mr. Laszlo, the spirit of Keeper’s Secondhand Store who had taken Calendula in and, when he passed away, left the store to her. The talking feline’s speech is peppered with Yiddish and in my head I heard Billy Crystal doing the dialogue.

Steinkellner must have had such fun writing and illustrating this story which reads quickly and nicely ties all the loose threads together at the end. The artwork wonderfully and convincingly conveys the moments when Moth experiences the power of magic. I especially liked the historical scenes and when Moth visits Hecate, but to be honest, all the illustrations brought the story alive. The novel is filled with humor, sarcasm, action, fantasy, pride and most of all, love as evidenced by Moth’s efforts to navigate the magical world of her grandmother and the real world in which Calendula has chosen to raise her. She’s new to the witch world and she’s far from perfect, making her The Okay Witch we care about and want to see happy and at home with her mom.

Graphic novel fans will quickly be swept up into Moth’s witchy world of time travel, timelessness, tween curiosity and relationships as Moth tries to learn more about herself. Will the way in which her family’s life intersects with that of Founder’s Bluff  be a reason to stay or retreat to Hecate? The fun’s in the finding out in this enchanting, recommended read that’s definitely not just for Halloween.

Ghoulia and the Mysterious Vistor cvrGHOULIA AND THE MYSTERIOUS VISITOR (Book #2)
Written and illustrated by Barbara Cantini
Translated from Italian by Anna Golding
(Amulet Books; $9.99, Ages 6-8)

You don’t need to have read Book#1 in order to enjoy Ghoulia and the Mysterious Visitor (Book #2), a chapter book series about a friendly zombie called Ghoulia and the dead and not-so-dead inhabitants of Crumbling Manor. Billed as Clue meets Little Shop of Horrors, this full-color illustrated book is sure to get young readers in a Halloween mood.

The story opens with Ghoulia feeling bored. When cranky cousin Dilbert arrives unexpectedly, Ghoulia looks for her Auntie Departed to explain why this relative she’d never even heard of got invited to Crumbling Manor. But her Chatterbox-Ivy-obsessed aunt is nowhere to be found. Ghoulia thinks it’s odd when more friends turn up, each with an invitation to a surprise dinner the young vampire knows nothing about.

As Ghoulia and her pals search Crumbling Manor for Auntie Departed, a friend Theresa also goes missing. Something weird is happening so the remaining guests split up to find those who’ve disappeared while trying to help Ghoulia figure out who sent the invitations.

This delightful chapter book will hook confident young readers ages 6 to 8 who still love beautifully illustrated stories that aren’t scary yet have an air of mystery about them. I’m not sure kids will recognize famous individuals such as Hitchcock and Poe in framed pictures on Crumbling Manor’s walls, but they’re certainly a treat for adult readers. In fact every illustration is a treat and worthy of a thorough scanning to see what special things Cantini has hung up on the walls or placed in each room. Her prose and pictures provide the perfect foreshadowing for kids quick to pick up clues. At the end there are bonus activities including how to write an invitation and fill out an envelope, how to start a garden and how to make Dilbert’s special pumpkin juice (minus the spiders’ eggs)! Watch out for Ghoulia and the Ghost With No Name (Book #3) coming soon!

THE CURSE OF THE WERE PENGUIN
Written by Allan Woodrow
Illustrated by Scott Brown
(Viking BYR; $17.99, Ages 8-12)

Described by Chris Grabenstein, #1 New York Times bestselling author, as “Young Frankenstein meets The Princess Bride in the most hysterically hilarious book I’ve read in years,” and I could not agree more. I smiled my whole way through The Curse of the Werepenguin, a clever, funny and original story within a story. I read it over two days and could not wait to see how author Allan Woodrow would end it. As I suspected, it’s TO BE CONTINUED so now I have to find out where he takes this wild and feathery tale of an orphan boy named Bolt.

Meet Humboldt Wattle (aka Bolt), a twelve-year-old boy abandoned as a baby at The Oak Wilt Home for Unwanted Boys. There’s little about him that makes him stand out except a large bird-shaped birthmark on his neck. When suddenly his life changes overnight, Bolt’s unusual marking will take on tremendous significance in his life. He’s been summoned to the distant land of Brugaria by a wealthy baron who no one wishes to disobey. Could this mean the family he’s been hoping for is finally ready to reunite with him?

The catch is that Baron Chordata is not only a cruel person feared by most inhabitants of Brugaria, he looks like he’s the same age as Bolt. On top of that, he dresses in tuxedos even at home, and consumes massive quantities of fish, every kind imaginable, including live goldfish. Woodraw’s descriptions of eating seafood have to be some of the funniest and disgusting ones I’ve ever read and I lapped up every slimy, slithery sentence. I also may never look at fish sticks the same way again!

In a trance from his first experience playing video games, Bolt unknowingly agrees to a request by Baron Chordata. This eventually leads to his being bitten on the neck. The result? Bolt turns partially into half boy, half penguin or werepenguin, so maybe a quarter … Anyway, after three days the full effect of the transformation will be complete. When the full moon shines, which is every night in Brugaria, the change in Bolt occurs. His feet turn webbed and orange, he sprouts wild tufts of hair, wings, an enormous nose and has cravings for seafood. Then he, along with all the other werepenguins including the baron, bark, wreak havoc and steal fish whenever possible.

Fortunately or unfortunately for Bolt, a girl named Annika who tried to rob and kidnap him because she’s “the world’s great bandit,” becomes an ally (or not) in trying to help Bolt escape the baron’s wicked clutches and rid himself of the werepenguin curse. The curse is not the only thing Bolt’s dealing with. He’s got this wacky, whale-loving cult leader named Günter determined to destroy him. Günter’s weapon of choice, a loaf of French bread! Plus Bolt’s learned that the werepenguins, led by power and fish hungry werepenguin-in-chief, Baron Chordata, are orchestrating a takeover of Brugaria the same day the curse on Bolt goes into full force. Someone has to do something and Bolt realizes it’s him. What that something is, he’s not totally sure, but still …

You’ll LOL at the Cloris Leachman-like “lowly housekeeper” called Frau Farfenugen, a greenish, warty and miserable woman who is not what she seems, Blazenda, a fortune-telling witch whose cackles drive Bolt crazy, but who may hold the key (or tooth) to Bolt’s freedom, and a cast of colorful characters, some of whom scream and faint whenever the name Baron Chordata is said aloud, that will entertain you and have you sitting on the edge of your seat or wherever it is that you read fantastic books.

Ultimately, Bolt has to decide what real family is. Is it Annika and her bandit dad and his buddies or is it the rook of penguins that, we learn in the novel’s prologue, should never be split up? I’m not going to spoil it by telling you, but I will say that joining Bolt on his journey is something you’ll love doing. So start cooking some fish sticks, grab a baguette and get reading!

Ghost book coverGHOST: THIRTEEN HAUNTING TALES TO TELL
A Collection by Illustrátus
(Chronicle Books; $21.99, Ages 9-12)
Starred Reviews – Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal

I made sure I read this book when my husband was home because I’m a big chicken. When I did read Ghost, I realized the stories are not only fantastic ghost stories for Halloween, but also ones to commit to memory to share around a campfire. You could also bring the book along but you many not want the hauntingly illustrated, white embossed cover to get dirty. “Contributors to this chilling collection include authors Blaise Hemingway and Jesse Reffsin, and illustrators Chris Sasaki and Jeff Turley,” and Kit Turley, and they’ve done a fantastic job of scaring me although, as I said above, I do scare easily.

As I settled down to read each of the thirteen eerie tales, an owl hooted from my back yard adding to spooky feeling the stories exude. The tales, brief but powerfully creepy, are ideal for tweens who love to feel the hair on their necks stand up. The subjects range from a girl getting a tap tap tap from her mirror and then being imprisoned in it by her evil reflection, to two boys going ice fishing who disregard a shopkeeper’s advice to avoid the north of Point Whitney. The reasonit’s haunted by the ghost of Max Whitney, the former owner of the bait and tackle shop. Do the boys catch a lot of fish? Yep. Do they return safely home to share their experience? I’m not telling. There’s another one that takes place by a pond. Suffice it to say that, unlike the main character in this tale, a boy named Samuel who hears his drowned sister call out to him and follows her cries, I would never go out of my house in the middle of the night with a lantern by myself. The artwork throughout Ghost has a spare quality about it with a very limited palette which is appropriate for the collection. And though created digitally, all the illustrations resemble wood block prints and imbue every tale with as frightening an effect as the words themselves.

The tale that particularly resonated with me was about a girl who finally gets a room of her own away from her younger sister. Now alone in her new bedroom, the girl is terrified of the ghostly night noises but thinks if she just huddles under the covers and keeps her eyes tightly closed, everything will be okay. And it is, but how long can she keep her eyes shut? Did I mention that as a child I had my dad install a lock on my bedroom closet door? I will not easily forget the story of the young boy, Michael Alvey deep sea diving to a WWII sub wreck in search of the bodies of his deceased parents. They died just after their last communication was, “Please! Help! They’re coming.” When I found out who “they” were, I was shocked and readers will be, too. I caution young readers to avoid basements, elevators, hiking or making a trip after midnight to a cemetery right after reading Ghost.

Some stories unhinged me more than others, “The Descent” being one of them. That’s not to say they weren’t all good because they were, but certain stories played off of my deepest fears more than others. That being said, it might be best to read this book with a cat curled up on your lap or with a big dog nearby during the day!

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

Read another Halloween Books roundup here.

 

Share this:

Middle Grade Novel Spotlight Post – The Last Dragon by James Riley

THE LAST DRAGON

By James Riley

Book #2 of The Revenge of Magic

(Aladdin; $18.99, Ages 8-12)

The Last Dragon book cover

 

MY TAKE:

Perfect for fans of Dungeons and Dragons and Stranger Things, THE LAST DRAGON went on sale this past Monday, Oct. 8. This is the second novel, which can be read as a standalone, in New York Times bestselling author James Riley’s thrilling new series The Revenge of Magic.

When I read that this particular installment was “packed with mystery, magic, and mayhem sure to keep readers guessing until the very end,” I was intrigued and couldn’t wait to get started. In doing so I was rewarded with an action-packed story that introduced me to likeable and not-so-likeable characters, the Oppenheimer School for magical training, and an assortment of creatures and adventures that kept me turning the pages of this new middle grade fantasy. I don’t often read the second book in a series without having read the first, but was immediately swept into the main character Fort’s quest to rescue his father who had been taken by evil beings called the Old Ones in an attack on the National Mall in D.C.

Once I was eager to know what would happen to Fort and his friends Jia, Rachel, Cyrus and Sierra, I also became invested in the dangerous and risky journey being planned. When a new student, Gabriel, was introduced, I also had to know how he fit into the picture. Would he be a help or hindrance to his roommate, Fort? What did it mean that he too was haunted by nightmares similar to those that Fort kept having?

The novel has some clever scenes where telepathy plays a big role. If I say too much more it will spoil things. Teleporting also features largely in The Last Dragon and the descriptions are fantastic. I almost felt I could do it. And in some scenes, like those in London or New York, I could easily picture everything because of Riley’s deft writing. The way magic is used in this novel not only advances the plot, but feels believable and that matters when myriad novels include magic. There’s humor that tweens will appreciate too. I love how, for example, before Fort sets off to find his father, he makes sure to take a pee stop. A lot of the banter, sometimes sarcastic, sometimes funny, but mostly important, between the friends also feels real.

If your child is interested in an entertaining and super satisfying fantasy that delivers on all fronts, I’d recommend the The Last Dragon, book #2 in the The Revenge of Magic series. Now I just have to go back and read the first book!

 

SUMMARY:

Fort Fitzgerald can’t stop having nightmares about the day his father was taken from him in an attack on Washington, DC. In these dreams, an Old One, an evil beyond comprehension, demands the location of the last dragon. But other than some dragon skeletons dug up with the books of magic on Discovery Day, Fort has never seen a dragon before. Could there still be one left alive?

And weirdly, Fort’s not the only one at the Oppenheimer School having these nightmares. His new roommate, Gabriel, seems to know more than he’s letting on about this dragon as well. And why does everyone at the school seem to do whatever Gabriel says? What’s his secret?

Fort’s going to need the help of his friends Cyrus, Jia, and Rachel, if he’s going to have any chance of keeping the Old Ones from returning to Earth. Unless, the Old Ones offer something Fort could never turn down …

Buy the book from Once Upon A Time bookstore here to support a local independent retailer.

Buy the book from Indie Bound here.

Find out more about The Last Dragon here.

 

Share this:

Middle Grade Book Review – Beach Battle Blowout by Chris Grabenstein

BEACH BATTLE BLOWOUT
WELCOME TO WONDERLAND #4
by Chris Grabenstein,

Illustrated by Kelly Kennedy,
(Random House BYR; $13.99, Ages 8-12)

 

 

 

If you’re looking for an upbeat beach read or a book that keeps the summer feeling going strong as back-to-school time begins, Beach Battle Blowout is it. The fourth installment in the Welcome to Wonderland series continues with fast-paced silliness. Likeable main character P.T. Wilkie lives in “the funnest place on Earth” (a funky motel) with his mother and his grandfather who is Florida’s “other Walt.” P.T.’s best friend, Gloria Ortega, lives there too because her sportscaster dad moves around a lot for TV gigs.

Previous books focused more on P.T. wondering about the identity of his father; here, his questioning is mentioned in passing but with significance. Dad or no Dad, something exciting is brewing again. This time, the Hottest Family Attraction contest, hosted by Florida Fun in the Sun magazine, focuses on smaller attractions like the Wonderland Motel. To find winning strategies, Gloria serves as the brains and financial whiz, while P.T. follows in his grandfather’s footsteps weaving wacky stories that entertain the guests. Their competitors have larger, newer, and fancier offerings, but the Wonderland has heart.

Short chapters and 70+ comic-style illustrations engage even reluctant readers. Mix a cast of friendly characters—and maybe a few “villains”—with adventure and mystery and you get this middle-grade page-turner. Don’t miss the funny and spot-on Storytelling Tips at the end.

The first book in the Welcome to Wonderland series is a New York Times best-seller, a winner of the Sid Fleischman Humor Award, and on the Sunshine State Young Readers Award list. Chris Grabenstein is also author of the successful and popular Mr. Lemoncello series.

Share this:

Graphic Novel Review: Dear Justice League by Michael Northrop Blog Tour

✹BLOG TOUR✹

DEAR JUSTICE LEAGUE

Written by Michael Northrop

Illustrated by Gustavo Duarte

(DC Zoom/DC Entertainment; $9.99, Ages 6-10)

 

Dear Justice League cover

 

Good Reads With Ronna is delighted to be part of the Dear Justice League blog tour celebrating this week’s launch of a rollicking good read and recommended middle grade graphic novel from DC Zoom.

The premise is a simple yet oh so satisfying one. Fictitious kids from all over America pen Dear Abby-type letters to their fave superheroes and then lo and behold, they get replies. Not what you were expecting, right?

Middle grade readers, reluctant and struggling readers as well as fans of graphic novels will enjoy every single page of Northrop’s and Duarte’s fast and uproarious read. It’s playful and action-packed, and who doesn’t love a story where there’s never a dull moment? Northrup delivers dynamic dialogue that pairs perfectly with Duarte’s art.  His hilarious illustrations, full of every facial expression possible, jump off the page and pull you in. They deserve to be looked at multiple times.

I got into the novel quickly, intrigued by the first question posed to none other than my childhood hero, Superman. Wondering if the Man of Steel had ever messed up, the letter writer is shown having botched up his attempt at an invention. And while you’d think heroes are especially busy saving the day in multiple ways with no time for correspondence, Clark Kent’s alter ego surprises young Ben Silsby with an answer. Texting, flying and superhero-ing however do not safely go together leading to a hilarious string of close calls demonstrating that it’s not just Kryptonite that can bring him down.

Wonder Woman 7 int art from Dear Justice League
Interior artwork from Dear Justice League written by Michael Northrop and illustrated by Gustavo Duarte, DC Zoom ©2019.

 

I especially loved having the chance to meet seven other members of the Justice League, each presented in their own chapter addressing a particular issue raised via email, text or snail mail. Hawkgirl, Aquaman, Wonder Woman, Flash, Green Lantern, Cyborg, and Batman all make appearances and make you want to spend more time with them. The Dear Justice League questions range from silly (does Hawkgirl eat small mammals, does Aquaman smell like fish) to those that will resonate with the targeted age group about bullying, moving to a new school, being perfect, fitting in, friendship and teamwork.

Dear Batman 10
Interior artwork from Dear Justice League written by Michael Northrop and illustrated by Gustavo Duarte, DC Zoom ©2019.

 

Another aspect of the book that worked well was the thread running through the entire story about an invasion of evil, insect-like Shock Troopers from the planet Molt-On. Here’s where I was first introduced to Hawkgirl and was impressed by her sense of humor though a bit wary of how much soda she seemed to consume. But most of all, I enjoyed seeing the superheros hang out at HQ, chatting together while revealing snippets of their characters. When they ultimately fought off the Shock Troops through a well coordinated team effort, I felt happy and eager to read more about each of them individually and as a league. Next up for me is definitely Superman of Smallville, available 9/3/19.

Dear Aquaman 20
Interior artwork from Dear Justice League written by Michael Northrop and illustrated by Gustavo Duarte, DC Zoom ©2019.

 

The start of a new school year is an ideal time to share this graphic novel showing sometimes serious, yet often tongue-in-cheek adventures that demonstrate how even superheroes have the same vulnerabilities kids have. They may fight foes but are far from perfect. So head to your local independent bookseller to buy a copy of Dear Justice League for your kids because these graphic novels are bound to win new DC superhero fans and delight old ones.

Click here to read a preview.

  • Reviewed by Ronna Mandel

CHECK OUT MORE BLOG TOUR POSTS HERE:

THE BOOK RAT
BOOKISH REALMS REVIEWS
THE MAGIC OF WOR(L)DS
THE CHILDREN’S WAR
WORD SPELUNKING
THE MAGIC OF WOR(L)DS

 

Share this:

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 

 

Share this:
Back To Top