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 Founda 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.
A fun spin on the classic Father’s Day gift of a dress shirt and/or tie, this unique rhyming board book invites little ones to lift the tie (flap) and reveal which trophy goes to dad for the things he’s so good at. Whether a father excels at making repairs, cooking, styling hair, or reading bedtime stories, #1 Dad probably covers something a father can claim is his specialty. Paper-cut artwork adds to the enjoyment of this entertaining celebration of dads.
The beautiful pastel colors of oranges and reds carry the heroic red-headed father and his red-headed kids through a magical story of what makes up a true hero in the newly released Dad: The Man, The Myth, The Legend. Mifflin Lowe and Dani Torrent’s picture book begins with portraits on the walls in the family home depicting a superhero father like no other. He lifts cars above his head; travels to the moon; and is stronger than Sasquatch and Thor. Mom says he is a legend in his own mind, Lowe writes which is a pretty great description of many dads.
One great example of this larger-than-life father is when he gets tangled in a hose and his son sees him as Tarzan. This sweet story for young readers makes a big statement that no matter what Dad does, and however mad he may make Mom (speeding in a minivan is not the same as driving a race car), Dad will always be amazing. One of Torrent’s most heart-warming illustrations is of the boy and his sister on Dad’s lap reading with his eyes closed. Dad can do no wrong even when sleeping! And no matter how much Dad drives Mom crazy, she says it just makes her crazy about him. And, if you purchase this book Bushel & Peck will donate another to a child in need!
‘My daddies are amazing—the world’s best king and king,” says the brown-haired child with big brown eyes in Adventures With My Daddies written by debut author Gareth Peter and illustrated by Garry Parsons, illustrator of the best-selling series The Dinosaur That Pooped. The Daddies in this blended family are not the best at everything, but our young narrator really doesn’t care. The Daddies tell adventurous stories But my daddies’ favorite story is … the one that brought them me. Peter’s rhyming text takes the reader on exciting adventures, with colorful illustrations of roaming hills of green grass and deep blue oceans. This LGBTQ+ and adoptive family story shows the power of familial love whether a child has two moms, two dads, or one mom and one dad. What a lovely, upbeat story about diversity and inclusiveness. Click here for an activity sheet.
My Dad is another newly released lyrical rhyming text taking the reader through the one-of-a-kind relationship between a boy and his dad (and the orange cat who is often close by). The sweetness of everyday activities is simply conveyed, like Dad making mornings special because he loves to bake, while the young boy leans his head on the counter with a smile on his face watching Dad pull the cookies from the oven.
Ruiz’s warm color palette brings added charm to this touching story. Delightful detail is shown in the artwork, as the boy sits with one cat slipper on while the other has fallen to the floor (and, of course, the cat stares at the mysterious cat slipper in awe). Dad has the magical ability to make everyday tasks such as shopping, which he says is boring, into an adventure where they pretend they are in the jungle looking for tasty food to eat. The imaginative take on people in line at a store surrounded by monkeys and tigers will make every child eager to go shopping with Dad. This comforting bedtime story for any dad to read to his child reinforces how special the father-son bond can be.
This picture book was written as a love letter to daughter Rumi, and soon to follow son Xander (that is with an X, not a Z as our main character teaches the reader) because authors Ryan Brockington and Issac Webster were unable to find a story about families similar to their own. Illustrator Lauren May depicts framed photos on a wall of all kinds of families because every family is unique in its own way. The take-away from this story is that the most important thing is being raised with lots of love, no matter who you call your parents.
Rumi’s daddies play different roles in her life. Daddy sings her songs, while Dada reads her stories but They both love me THIS much as May illustrates Rumi’s arms opened wide. The family of five—we can’t forget adorable black and white dog Betty—goes for hikes together, while other families eat ice cream or play basketball. May’s illustrations, created with Photoshop Elements, show all sizes and colors of families. The story ends with Rumi sitting on the floor with her green cape and the words Tell me about your family. This conversation starter is a fabulous way for parents to discuss their own family dynamics, or maybe a relative or friend’s family. It is also a perfect school art assignment for young kids.
Reviewed by Ronda Einbinder
Other Recommeded Reads for Father’s Day or any day to celebrate dads:
Tad and Dad Written and illustrated by David Ezra Stein (Nancy Paulsen Books, $8.99, Ages 1-3)
Hair Twins Written by Raakhee Mirchandani Illustrated by Holly Hatam (Little, Brown BYR; $17.99, Ages 4-8)
A 2020 National Book Awards Longlist Selection A Shelf Awareness Best Book of 2020 A Reading Group Choices Best Book of 2020 A Mighty Girl Best Book of 2020 ★Starred Review – Kirkus
Marcella Pixley’s middle-grade book, Trowbridge Road, opens with Jenny Karlo’s loud, beat-up car disturbing a sleepy Boston suburb. Jenny’s music and personality add to the unrest as she deposits her son, Ziggy, at Nana’s for an indeterminate stay. June Bug Jordan, the unofficial neighborhood watcher, takes this in from a safe distance. It’s 1983 and June Bug’s world has recently been shattered by AIDS.
Outcasts of sorts, June Bug and Ziggy (and Matthew, the ferret, who’s often perched atop Ziggy’s unruly red hair) meld into a comfortable friendship where their imaginations transport them from everyday troubles. Matthew’s antics add levity as the truths for both kids begin to unfold. While Ziggy’s grandmother and June Bug’s uncle are steady and trustworthy, other adults struggle with mental illness and domestic violence making them incompetent caregivers who provide love alongside complicated pain.
Pixley does an amazing job bringing such difficult topics to a middle-grade audience. Problems are laid out from a child’s viewpoint and not explained away—simple answers don’t exist. Filled with complex characters, Trowbridge Road delivers an emotional journey, proving hope exists even on the darkest days. My favorite scenes include ones where the kids lose themselves in larger-than-life, fantastic journeys. The escapism offers them moments of freedom to work through personal traumas.
This beautifully written book is one I recommend to friends. There’s so much here, you’ll want to read it again. I congratulate Pixley on her craft which brings to life endearingly flawed characters during an important historical time.
★Starred Reviews – Book Page, Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal
Eleven-year-old Julie Sweet and her six-year-old sister, Martha, are “summer people” at Belle Beach, Long Island, taking a break from the city with their writer dad. The book opens with the girls finding a baby left on the steps of the library and the story spins backward from there. Told from three viewpoints (the sisters’, plus that of their neighbor, twelve-year-old, Bruno Ben-Ali), the reader pieces together what happened to cause a myriad of events, including the breakup of Julie and Bruno’s friendship. World War II concerns are deftly incorporated, such as Bruno’s brother being drafted and the increasing number of funeral services for overseas casualties; a nearby army hospital also factors in.
In The Summer We Found the Baby, Amy Hest, weaves together a fast-paced plot with levity, where stories at times overlap as we discover what each character discloses or conceals. Historical details take a backseat to friendship concerns, sibling squabbling, and familial issues. Seeing the happenings from three perspectives works well to uncover the kids’ fears and losses. This likable tale captures a few scenes in a summer where lives come together and move apart, and how, sometimes, specific moments bring about change. And, yes, we eventually unwind the mystery behind the abandoned baby.
In the nineteenth century, grave robbers supplied medical schools with corpses. While this does happen in Magic Dark and Strange, Catherine Daly leaves home to take a respectable job at the city’s newspaper, knowing her family needs the income. Though at night, she earns a bit more digging up graves to briefly enliven the dead so they can spend a while longer with their loved ones. In exchange, for each hour granted, she loses an hour of her life. On a special expedition to collect a unique timepiece, she somehow brings a teen boy fully to life. Since he has no memory, they question who he is, why he died, and what resurrected him. Somewhat reluctantly Guy Nolan, the watchmaker’s son, houses the boy he names Owen and sets about seeking answers with Catherine. While a budding attraction develops between Catherine and Guy, their encounters focus more on mystery-solving than romantic interludes.
I knew I’d like this book from its first line: “Waking the dead wasn’t nearly so unpleasant as having to dig them up in the first place.” This sums up Catherine well: that she perform small magic is a given, but it’s hard work and she must avoid being caught by a watchman. The story’s turns will keep you guessing at Owen’s true identity, especially once the murders begin. Readers who appreciate historical details blended with fantasy will find this a fascinating read. I was unsure until the end whether Owen was innocent or hiding his dark past. See if your sleuthing can figure it out before it’s revealed.
★Starred Reviews –Kirkus, School Library Connection
The Titanic sinks; I’ve heard many of the stories, but Stacey Lee’s YA novel, Luck of the Titanic, illuminates the unjust treatment of the few Chinese aboard that dreaded voyage. In reality, six of the eight Chinese passengers survived (whereas only 25% of the other passengers survived), yet, rare mentions “vilified them as cowards who took seats from women and children or dressed as women in order to sneak aboard lifeboats, all of which were unfounded rumors.” The US’s Chinese Exclusion Act in place in 1912 ensured that all of these men—who likely did not speak English—were shipped off within twenty-four hours of arrival, their stories lost.
From these facts, Lee weaves a tale about brother and sister acrobats, the Luck twins. Val makes an action-packed, stowaway entrance to join her brother, Jamie. Her haphazard plan involves finding and impressing the influential circus owner, thus gaining access to America. Yet, Jamie has given up such sensational aspirations. Strong-willed Val tries to right him to her course but, along the convoluted, shenanigan-filled way, discovers much about herself, family, and the meaning of true love.
This seven-day voyage sails by quickly. Val is an interesting character who quickly won me over with her endearingly persistent flaws. Knowing about the fateful iceberg didn’t make the plot any less suspenseful. Instead, the concluding chapters are nail-biters, through the unpredictable ending.
Lee’s book begins a much-needed conversation that will, hopefully, result in finding information about the actual Chinese survivors so their stories can be added to the history books. I appreciate the care with which she writes historical fiction and, previously, enjoyed her 2019 YA, The Downstairs Girl, set in 1890 Atlanta, which also tackles issues of inequality shown from a strong, female lead character’s perspective.
[ATTENTION WRITERS: Catch her Sat. April 10, in “Hitch Up Your Petticoats: Stacey Lee Reveals How to Write Historical Fiction.” Registration link here. Non-SCBWI members, email Natasha Yim at email@example.com.]
In The Elephant in the Room, when middle-schooler, Sila Tekin’s mother is stuck in Turkey trying to get her immigration paperwork in order, the loneliness is almost unbearable for her and her father, Alp. Sila’s newly withdrawn demeanor prompts her school to pair her with autistic classmate Mateo Lopez in a special program that has the kids spending time together at the end of each school day. The point is to help both kids socialize more and, after a slow, silent start, they eventually begin getting to know each other.
Life changes dramatically for Sila and Mateo when Alp is hired to fix an old truck owned by widower, Gio, who lives on a non-working farm on the outskirts of town. Sila and Gio seem to form an immediate bond, even before they discover that Gio’s late wife was Sila’s beloved second-grade teacher. When an odd string of coincidences leads to Gio rescuing a young elephant named Veda from a failing circus, Sila and Mateo wind up with the most awesome summer job ever—caring for Veda. Sila connects to the young pachyderm on a deep level, realizing that, like her, Veda must really miss her mother. A reunion of either mother-daughter pair feels out of reach, but with a team of caring friends—maybe it’s not.
Author Holly Goldberg Sloan has another deeply heartfelt hit on her hands. Again employing the multi-POV device she uses so brilliantly, she lets readers see and feel the unfolding of these extraordinary events through various characters’ eyes. Veda’s POV is used sparingly but impactfully, and even the supporting animal characters—a flock of undisciplined flamingos, a ravenous bear, and a loyal dog—whose POVs we’re not privy to, are well-drawn, quirky, and fun.
Both kids are battling quiet storms within, which makes them interesting and empathetic. Gio is wonderfully complex. His desire to rediscover meaning in life, coupled with voluminous lottery winnings, propel him to take on caring for Veda, somehow feeling it’s something he has to do. His connection with Sila seems similarly fated, and their special bond serves as the glue for all of the characters. A story of hope, longing, love, and action, The Elephant in the Room will show middle-grade readers that things—people, animals, situations—are not always what they seem and that they’re not always as powerless over circumstances as they sometimes feel.
(Barefoot Books; HC $16.99, PB English or Spanish $8.99, Ages 4-9)
★ Starred Reviews – Foreword Reviews, School Library Journal
Few picture books will trigger your wanderlust more than the beautiful A Gift for Amma: Market Day in India, written by Meera Sriramand Illustrated by Mariona Cabassa. The story follows a young girl as she shops at an outdoor Indian market to find a gift for Amma—or Mother. But really, it is a celebration of color, the senses, and love.
Each spread introduces readers to not just the various items in the market, but to a vibrant color palette of dizzying loveliness. Pink is not just pink. It is lotus pink, like the flowers and sweet treats the girl considers buying for Amma. Likewise, green becomes peacock green, and orange become saffron orange. But, in such a poly-chromatic world, how can a gift of any one color ever suffice? This is the question the at heart of the story—and it is such a good one that you might suddenly look at your black and white wardrobe and ask yourself: What was I thinking? e
Readers will also love the final two spreads, which provide more information about not just the merchandise available at the outdoor markets of Southern India, but about the history of outdoor markets themselves.
A Gift for Amma is the perfect antidote for these days of remote learning and armchair traveling. It will give you hope. There is still so much waiting for us in the days ahead. And—if we are lucky—they will be very colorful.
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This may not be your typical Mother’s Day, but you can still make it special. So, wherever you are, please consider adding a good book to any celebration that you may be planning. Support moms while also helping independent bookstores around the country when you make your reading selections. Check out Indiebound.org,Bookshop.org today or call your local independent bookseller for curbside pickup available in many parts of the country.
What’s wonderful about this unassuming little die-cut board book is that it’s full of surprises that will entertain parents as well as children. Adorably illustrated throughout, the book has a circle cut-out on the cover focusing in on the sweetest little bear . Each page turn reveals how much he loves spending time with Mommy, Daddy, and the two of them together. All kinds of hands-on treats await youngsters because there are flaps to lift and pages to flip as well as a big gatefold illustration and sturdy, glossy pages. Little Bear’s parents pass him between them, Daddy picks him up like an airplane and is comforted by him when he’s sad. My favorite spread is the one where Little Bear rubs noses with his mommy because that’s something my son and I always used to do. Not only ideal for Mother’s Day, Mommy, Daddy, and Me! would make a great Father’s Day gift or story time interactive read.
Part of the New Books for Newborns series, this 16-page board book would make a great baby shower or Mother’s Day gift. Hand in Hand’s gentle, soothing verse coupled with its charming illustrations will capture the attention of infants and toddlers. Created with the littlest readers in mind, the story introduces children to a little girl heading out to the park with her mom and a floral decorated ball. “Me/You/We, two/Hand in hand/Through and through.” Mother and child spend time together in all kinds of play and tender moments depicted in scenes that reassure children of their mother’s love. The read aloud quality of the prose invites sweet story times for little ones just becoming acquainted with books.
This moving debut picture book with its spare yet lyrically written text explores the extent to which a mother will go in her efforts to conceive a child via IVF. Sherhant honestly shares the emotional and difficult journey she experienced using metaphors that are beautifully illustrated by Keller. The purple and blue palette is just the right combination of warmth and heart. While not an adoption story, I felt the same strong message of commitment and love as I felt when reading I’ve Loved You Since Forever and Born From the Heart. “I loved you before I met you. I felt you in my arms before I could hold you. But the road was long, and the way was hard.” In an author’s note at the end, Serhant explains how she wanted to write this book “for mothers and fathers who have had a similar road to parenthood.” I’m so glad she channeled her quest into a picture book that will mean so much to so many families who’ll be able to read this to their miracle children one day. I have a friend with her first child from IVF due this fall and, having watched her heartbreak then hope this past year and half, I know just how much this book will resonate with her.
I’m so glad children have a picture book that celebrates an alternative family arrangement in such a positive way. The main character, Carol Olivia Clementine, is six-years-old. “I live with Mama Rose right now,” she explains. While the young reader never learns the reason for the separation, or the relationship between Mama Rose and Carol, that never detracts from the story. Duncan’s upbeat prose, and carefully placed gentle repetition, “My mother and father live far away. I wish we lived together. I wish that they were here,” lets us know that Carol is aware of her situation, yet happy and cared for as if she were Mama Rose’s own child. Mama Rose treats Carol just like any mom would whether that’s teaching her how to tell time, making her eat all her veggies, sending her upstairs to clean up her messy bedroom or complimenting her on a job well done.
Duncan tells us in the Author’s Note that her Aunt was raised with her by her mother and says “It is love that defines our relationships.” A family friend can serve as a mother, as can a guardian or another relative as was the case in Duncan’s household. Regardless of what brought Carol into Mama Rose’s home, Barlow’s charming and cheerful watercolor, gouache, colored pencil and gel pen illustrations feel hopeful. They depict a little girl who misses her parents—we see her make drawings of her parents and can spot a picture of them on Mama Rose’s wall—but who also accepts the love of Mama Rose. “Mama Rose is my home.”
“May loved to visit Grama every summer and watch the stars.” So begins this picture book that is definitely not just for Mother’s Day, though it does get its heart from the nurturing relationship of Grama and her granddaughter, May. “Then one cold day, May came to live with her.” From that the older reader can gather that May has lost her parents or perhaps Grama has just become her guardian for other reasons. Either way, she’s always there for May, to offer love, hugs and inspiration. What’s so sweet about this story is how the pair share the love of stars, birds and dreaming. Grama encourages May who, we learn from a succession of first day of school spreads over the years, has a passion for outer space. “May wanted to take off to the stars one day.” Winning at school fairs leads to a month at space camp where May’s dreams are finally realized. She’ll become the world’s youngest astronaut, but before she heads off anywhere, she must have a hug from Grama. What Nielander shows in her 40-page book’s text and illustrations is how important it is to reach for the stars while having someone on Earth who helps keep you grounded and confident. With that and a hug, who knows what else May might achieve in her life.