Thursday, August 4, 2016

Summer Round-Up

I had every intention of keeping up with my monthly round-ups, but, oh, what a busy summer it has been! Along with the annual summer reading madness, I've also been collaborating with fellow 2016 Geisel Award Committee members Amanda Foulk and Misti Tidman to create the new mock Geisel Award blog, Guessing Geisel. Launched in June, this blog was created as a place to celebrate and discuss beginning readers and the Geisel Award. We have a wonderful roster of guest bloggers who have so generously offered their time and expertise. I hope you'll check it out! Now onto the round-up!

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Akata Witch by Nnedi Okorafor 
Viking Books, 2011
Sunny, an albino Nigerian-American living in Nigeria, learns that she has magical abilities and that she’s really one of the enigmatic Leopard People. As she studies and practices her craft, she becomes part of a tightly knit quartet of friends--flirtatious and powerful Chichi, impulsive, African-American Sasha, and quiet Orlu. Sunny’s life takes another twist when it’s revealed that she and her friends are destined to combat the sinister serial killer Black Hat Otokoto. Fascinating spells, a magical world, and loyal friends make this a wonderful Harry Potter readalike.

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As Brave as You by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books, 2016
Quiet and observant African-American eleven-year-old Genie and his brash fourteen-year-old brother Ernie are less than excited to be spending the summer at their grandparents' house in rural Virginia. As Genie learns more about his resourceful Grandma and blind Grandpop, he also learns what it means to be brave and that sometimes the brave thing is to say no. Strong writing and laugh out loud funny, yet heartbreakingly real characters are at the center of this not-to-be-missed intergenerational story. A wonderful recommendation for fans of One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia, The Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis, and Richard Peck’s A Long Way from Chicago.

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Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca Mock 
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016
Set in 1860 this is the story of two sets of red-haired twins, a missing father, a nefarious pirate captain, and a seafaring voyage from New York City to San Francisco via the treacherous Cape Horn. The first set of twins, Alexander and Cleopatra (Patrick when disguised as a boy), have been given a mysterious watch and knife by their now missing father. Their lives become intertwined with the second set of twins, Silas and Edwin, as all four children struggle to survive. The first in the Four Points series, this historical fiction graphic novel is full of non-stop adventures. Although it can be difficult to tell the twins apart in some illustrations, is this just a tiny flaw in this rip roaring story. The second book, Knife's Edge, is set to be published in June, 2017.

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Gertie’s Leap to Greatness by Kate Beasley 
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)
Farrar Straus Giroux, 2016
Energetic and determined Gertie Reece Foy lives in a small Alabama town with her father and her Great-Aunt Rae, and is best friends with loyal Junior Jr. and class genius Jean. Gertie enters fifth grade with a mission, and she never fails at a mission. She’s going to give the best ever class speech about her summer, and then everyone will see she’s “the greatest fifth grader in the whole school, world, and universe!” And that’s just phase one! It’s all part of a plan to show Gertie’s birth mother how amazing Gertie is and how much she doesn’t need a mother. Unfortunately, the new school year brings a new instantly popular girl, Mary Sue Spivey. Soon Gertie and Mary Sue are locked in a battle to be the best. Who will win? Fans of Pennypacker’s Clementine, Turnage’s Three Times Lucky, and The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron will find a new friend in spunky, never-give-up Gertie.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

April Round-Up

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The Land of Forgotten Girls by Erin Entrada Kelly
Greenwillow Books, 2016
Immigrants from the Philippines, imaginative Sol and her little sister Ming live with their bitterly angry stepmother Vea in a rundown apartment in Giverny, LA. The girls long for their deceased mother, drowned middle sister, and father who has gone back to the Philippines. Sol keeps her spirits up by telling Ming fantastical stories. But little Ming is shattered when their adventurous, world-traveling Auntie Jove is revealed to be a myth. Set in the present day, this funny and heartbreaking book celebrates the resiliency of children and the power of stories. Sol’s strong relationships with her best friend Manny, tough-as-nails Caroline, and the silent elderly Chinese woman next door, are especially satisfying in their diversity and complexity. Although Vea has an unrealistic change of heart at the end of the story, Sol’s heart and soul keep this story afloat. If you like this one, don’t miss Blackbird Fly, also by Kelly.
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 9+/Grade 4+

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The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks
First Second, 2016
When young Kaidu arrives in the Nameless City, an important trade city connecting many provinces, he is daunted by his strict soldier's training. Then his father, whom he barely knows, introduces him to Rat, a street-wise girl who agrees to help Kaidu learn how to skim over the rooftops in exchange for food. Kaidu starts to feel at home in the city, just as danger shows itself. Rat gets wind of a conspiracy to assassinate the powerful General of All Blades. Can Kaidu and Rat get the message to the general in time? Set in an ancient Asian time and place (perhaps China?), this graphic novel moves quickly from scene to scene. The earthy color palette and great line work help to propel the fast-paced action. The three dimensional characters are flawed, yet compelling. Look for the sequel, The Stone Heart, set to be published in April, 2017.
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 10+/Grade 5+

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Raymie Nightingale by Kate DiCamillo
Candlewick, 2016
There were three 10-year-old girls in the Ida Nee’s baton twirling class set to enter the Little the Miss Central Florida Tire 1975 contest. But they have three different reasons. Raymie Clarke needs to win so her father, who ran away with a dental hygienist, will dash home after seeing Raymie in the newspaper. Fragile and bedecked with bunny barrettes, Louisiana Elefantes wants to win to save her cat Archie from the Very Friendly Animal Center. Beverly Tapinski is tough as nails and her plans for the contest involve sabotaging it, rather than winning it. Nothing goes according to plan, but everything happens for a reason in this poignant and humorous historical story. DiCamillo writing, as always, is engrossing and thought-provoking. Told from Raymie’s perspective, the story celebrates unlikely friendships, and encourages readers to find hope in the small things. Fans of DiCamillo’s Flora and Ulysses and Hilary Mckay’s Casson Family series will find a kindred spirit in Raymie Nightingale.
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 9+/Grade 4+

Friday, April 22, 2016

March Round-Up

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My Life with the Liars by Caela Carter
Harper, 2016
Zylynn has never been Outside. She has spent her whole life inside the compound of the Children of the Light. Now a man claiming to be her father is taking her out into the Darkness, a place she knows is full of liars and the temptations of Curiosity. Zylynn knows everything she sees, touches, hears, and tastes is a lie. She must get back to the compound by sunset on her thirteenth birthday or the man known as Father Prophet will ban her forever from the Children of the Light. But the more she lives with her father, his wife, and her three step-siblings, the harder it is to give everything up to go back. Set in modern day Arizona, this story focuses on the effects a fictional cult commune has on an impressionable and eager-to-please young girl. The narrative toggles between Zylynn’s first person, present tense account of life Outside and shocking memories of her childhood inside the compound. The predictable ending reveals Father Prophet to be greedy, controlling, and harsh, the opposite of what Zylynn was raised from infancy to believe, but the writing makes this a gripping page-turner. Based on accounts of real cult survivors, but never dipping into salacious or mature content, this is a great recommendation for tweens who are nearly (but not quite) ready to make the leap to edgier YA novels about cults.
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 10+/Grade 5+

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Pugs of the Frozen North: A Not-So-Impossible Tale by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre
Random House, 2016
True Winter is a once-in-a-lifetime event that goes beyond normal winter. The fish are frozen in the ocean, there are fifty different types of snow, and best of all, there is the Great Northern Race. The first sled to reach the magical Snowfather gets a wish. Shen is a cabin boy until the frozen ocean wrecks his ship. He and the cargo (66 energetic pugs) are abandoned in the snow. Luckily, a local girl named Sika rescues the boy and all the dogs. Sika and Shen decide to enter the race on a sled led by the 66 pugs. Armed with advice from Sika’s very, very old grandfather, the new friends set off for an adventure filled with addictive yeti noodles, massive Kraken, and treacherous ice. The illustrations, using only blues, whites, and blacks, are integral to the story. The quirky characters--Captain Jeggings, Professor Shackleton Jones, Sir Basil Sprout-Dumpling, and more!--are delightfully madcap in actions and images. The combination of text and illustrations make this a wonderful recommendation for graphic novel fans.
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 3+

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Waylon: One Awesome Thing by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Marla Frazee
Disney Hyperion, 2016
9-year-old Waylon is constantly observing the world, looking for ways to make things better using science. Unfortunately, there’s a lot that science can’t explain, like why the boys in his class are dividing into team or why his sister, formerly known as Charlotte Bronte Zakowski, wears nothing but black and insists that everyone call her Neon. Sometimes the only thing that keeps Waylon from disappearing is taking the time to sit and listen to the sounds of his own body. Waylon tries hard to think of an OAT (One Awesome Thing) every day, but lately it’s been hard. Set in present day Massachusetts, this series is a spin-off from Pennypacker’s popular Clementine series. The episodic stories of Waylon's days in school and at home are interspersed with Frazee’s illustrations, perhaps a little less crisp than in Clementine, but still endearing. Clementine herself makes a brief cameo.
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 3+

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

February Round-Up

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Isabel Feeney, Star Reporter by Beth Fantaskey
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)
10-year-old Isabel wants to be a reporter when she grows up (just like the famous Maude Collier!)but for now she’s selling newspapers for the Chicago Tribune. One night while selling papers she hears a gunshot. When she rushes down an alley, she finds her dear friend Miss Giddings standing over the dead body of a gangster. Spunky and intelligent Isabel sets about proving Miss Giddings innocence with the help of her new and very unlikely friends. The a
uthor’s historical note includes information on the female reporters who inspired this story. This historical fiction mystery set in 1920’s Chicago features an action-packed plot, great friendships, and compellingly strong female characters. Great for fans of Chasing Vermeer, The London Eye Mystery, and The Misadventures of Maude March.
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 9+/Grade 4+

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Pax by Sara Pennypacker, illustrated by Jon Klassen
Balzer + Bray, 2016
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 10+/Grade 5+
Themes of friendship, loyalty, war, nature, and humanity.
In this beautifully sad, yet hopeful story, Peter is forced to leave his beloved pet fox Pax to fend for himself in the forest. There’s a war coming, so Peter’s stern, angry father is joining the military. This means Peter must move in with his equally closed off grandfather in a town hundreds of miles away. Heartbroken and guilty over the loss of Pax, Peter embarks on a life-changing journey to find his best friend. Along they way he meets a mysterious hermit of a woman who teaches him patience. Without knowing it, he teaches her the importance of community and human connection. Klassen’s somber greyscale illustrations add to the feeling of isolation and vulnerability. Set in an unnamed time and place the immediacy and danger of war looms throughout this story of friendship. The third person narration alternates between Pax and Peter’s perspectives allowing the reader to know more than any one character. Although the story is contemplative and poignant, the pacing never lags. Spoiler alert: Pax doesn’t die, but other animals do.
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 10+/Grade 5+

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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)
Thoughtful and imaginative 8-year-old Max's newly divorced father has moved into a new apartment in a new neighborhood. Max isn’t sure what to expect when he visits his dad on the weekends, but before he knows it he’s making friends all over the neighborhood. He brings the diverse and talented residents of the apartment building together for a surprise talent show and delights in funny ditties sung by the jovial ukulele-strumming owner of a nearby diner. In between making friends, Max and his loving and humorous father play spies, work on homework, sing, and eat lots of pizza together. Three episodes, each taking up several chapters, are set in Michigan on consecutive weekends. Kath’s attractive illustrations provide context for new ideas and vocabulary. The difficult issue of divorce is handled with a light tough. Max ultimately realizes that he can have two homes—one with his mom and one with his dad. He learns that both homes can be comforting, and most importantly, full of loving friends and family. The illustrations combined with short chapters and a small cast of strongly developed characters make this a great transitional chapter book. Fans of Alvin Ho, Clementine, and Lulu will find a new friend in energetic Max.

Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 6+/Grade 1+

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When Mischief Came to Town by Katrina Nannestad
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016
(Reviewed based on an advance reader’s copy)
Nothing is ever the same on the quiet Danish island of Bornholm after vivacious 10-year-old Inge Maria arrives on her grandmother’s farm. She has a special brand of life and humor inspired by the tales of Hans Christian Andersen and expanded upon by her vast imagination. At first Inge Maria isn’t so sure about her stern grandmother, but she’s able to peel away her rough exterior to find the joy inside. Episodic chapters follow our plucky heroine’s adventures as she starts at a new school, tries to be devout at church, almost kills a turkey, and catches the island thief. Bit by bit it is revealed that Inge Maria’s mother has died and that’s why she had to leave Copenhagen.  This plot point is touched upon gently and briefly throughout, but never dampens the high spirited fun. This romp of a story is an excellent choice for family read aloud or for young precocious readers.
Recommended Age/Grade Level: Age 8+/Grade 3+

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Looking Back on 2015 and Ahead to 2016

The Giant Harry Potter Cardboard Maze. 
Photo courtesy of Will Forrester.


2015 was an incredibly busy year. I got married, went from part-time, to full-time, designed and built a giant cardboard maze, and we even bought a house! I was also serving on the Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Committee and spent the last few months knee deep in notes and books prepping for intense book discussions at ALA Midwinter. It was a lot of hard work, but I am very proud of the winner and three honor books chosen our committee. 

I'll admit it, I didn't get as much blogging done as I would have liked. So instead of trying to catch up on my November and December round-ups, and because there are more great books published each year than I could ever hope to read, I give you a round-up of best/notable/fabulous book lists of 2015. 

ALSC's Notable Children's Book 2016 List
A great list of books for kids (0-14 years old). The list is divided into books for younger, middle, and older readers with nonfiction and fiction mixed together. 

Denver Public Library's 2015 Best & Brightest Book List - Every year a group of Denver Public Library librarians gets together to create our Best & Brightest Children's Book List. Divided into categories, this annotated list includes our favorite children's books for babies through middle schoolers published in 2015. It is our hope that there's something on this list for every child. We strive to make a list that reflects the wonderful diversity of the City of Denver. I have personally contributed titles to this list. 

Notable Books for a Global Society 2016 List
Each year The Children's Literature and Reading Special Interest Group of the International Literacy Association chooses 25 books for preK through 12th grade that reflect and celebrate diversity. 

School Library Journal's Best of 2015
Categories include books for babies through teens, as well as apps, audiobooks, and DVDs. 

We Need Diverse Books End of the Year Booklists
Divided by age range and presented in eye-catching flowcharts, these lists provide a variety of excellent and diverse recommendations for young readers. 


As I look at my work-life-blog balance, I realize that I will have less time to blog in 2016. I still plan on posting a round-up at the end of each month, but the reviews will probably be much shorter. More keywords (to help me when I'm doing reader's advisory on the fly) and less hyperlinks. I hope you'll still continue to stop by and that you'll find this blog helpful. 

*A duplicate of this post can also be found on my other blog: