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    More Series and Sequels

    By Nancy Brashear and Carolyn Angus
     | Aug 14, 2017

    Once readers have been introduced to characters in a picture book or novel, they can enjoy following them to new adventures in the series. This week we review recently published, greatly anticipated sequels, first books in new series in a variety of genres, and the latest books in episodic series. There are also several final books in series, which may lead readers to seek out the earlier books for rereading.

    Ages 4–8

    Barkus. (Barkus #1). Patricia MacLachlan. Ill. Marc Boutavant. 2017. Chronicle.

    BarkusIn five short episodic chapters, a big brown dog named Barkus (a gift from Uncle Everton, who claims Barkus is “the smartest dog in the world”) proves that he is the perfect companion for Nicky. Barkus sneaks out of the house and follows her to school and becomes the class dog, celebrates a noisy birthday party with three dog friends, adopts a stray kitten, and enjoys listening to Nicky tell a bedtime story as he snuggles up with the kitten, Baby, during a backyard campout. Young readers will eagerly await the next book in this colorful, warmly humorous early chapter book series featuring this canine charmer.

    —CA

    Be Quiet! Ryan T. Higgins (Mother Bruce). 2017. Disney Hyperion.

    Be Quiet!Rupert the mouse gets to create and star in a “visually stimulating” wordless book, but his disruptive mouse friends, Nibbs and Thistle, with their imaginative antics and constant chatter (which appears in speech bubbles) are driving him crazy. “I said BE QUIET. This book is wordless!” This not-so-wordless picture book with cartoon-like illustrations—created with textured clayboard, graphite, ink, and Photoshop—includes a wealth of wordplay, jokes, and clever usage of literary elements such as onomatopoeia. Young children will also enjoy Mother Bruce (2015) and Hotel Bruce (2016) while waiting for the fourth book in the series, Bruce’s Big Move (expected to release on September 26, 2017).

    —NB

    Ellie in Concert. Mike Wu. 2017. Disney Hyperion.

    Ellie in ConcertIn this sequel to Ellie (2015), Ellie the elephant lulls Lucy the giraffe to sleep amidst the sounds of the zoo at night, including the hippo’s SNORTs, the monkey’s OOOHs, and the rhino’s GRUMPs, by organizing an orchestra of all the noisy animals, who perform Betty Bluebird’s lullaby. Soft illustrations, created with watercolor, gouache, pencil, and digital media, complement the gentle story of friends working together to solve a problem. Check out the author's website (theartofmikewu.com) to listen to “Betty’s Theme” and “Ellie in Concert Suite,” composed by Andrew Jimenez.

    —NB

    The Good for Nothing Button (Elephant & Piggie Like Reading!). Charise Mericle Harper. 2017. Hyperion/Disney.

    The Good for Nothing ButtonWhen Blue Bird and Red Bird press the red button that Yellow Bird insists is “a good for nothing button,” they report their reactions. For example, Blue Bird says, “The button is SO easy to press. It surprised me!” and Red Bird points out, “A surprise is NOT nothing.” When Yellow Bird repeatedly presses the button to show that it cannot make him calm, mad, happy, surprised, scared, icky, or anything else, Red Bird and Blue Bird announce that they know what the button does. “The button makes you funny!” And so begins a button-pressing game in which they all are funny together. Reading this cartoon-style story, which is introduced by Mo Willems’ Elephant and Piggie, will be loads of fun for beginning readers.

    —CA

    Ages 9–11

    The Door in the Alley (The Explorers #1). Adrienne Kress. 2017. Delacorte/Random House.

    The ExplorersFollowing the intriguing introductory statement “This story begins . . . with a pig wearing a teeny hat,” 12-year-old Sebastian, a methodical genius with a photographic memory, and 11-year-old Evie, a lonely orphan, converge on the members-only Explorers Society for different reasons, but soon combine resources to search for Evie’s missing grandfather, who is a member of the mysterious Fillipendulous Society. Unfolding from the viewpoints of both children, this comedic adventure is filled with non-stop twists and turns. The clever mystery, with its detailed black-and-white penned illustrations, occasional footnotes, and humorous asides from the author, leaves entertained readers ready for the sequel.

    —NB

    Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls (Mrs. Smith’s Spy School for Girls #1). Beth McMullen. 2017. Aladdin/Simon & Schuster.

    Mrs. Smith's Spy SchoolTwelve-year-old Abigail Hunter’s amateur sleuthing leads to the discovery that the boarding school her mother has enrolled her in is also a recruiting ground for the Center, a hush-hush spy organization. She is astounded to learn that her mother is one of its top agents and has disappeared while in pursuit of a dangerous criminal, the Ghost, “who is wanted all over the world by everybody.” After a crash course in Spy Training 101, Abigail becomes “bait” in the Center’s plan to locate her mother. When the plan goes awry, Abigail remains determined to find her mother. Nonstop action, accompanied by lots of humor, makes this book a page-turner. Fans of spy stories will be looking forward to Abigail’s next mission.

    —CA

    The Sands of Shark Island (School Ship Tobermory #2). Alexander McCall Smith. 2017. Delacorte/Random House.

    The Sands of Shark IslandThe 12-year-old McTavish twins, Fee and Ben, return to the Scotland-based boarding school/schooner Tobermory excited for the new term, where they will learn not only seafaring basics such as knot-tying, nautical chart reading, and navigation skills but also “land subjects,” including math, science, and history. This term the Tobermory’s destination is the Caribbean Sea so there will also be opportunities for other activities such as scuba diving and kitesurfing. When they dock at Green Bay Island, the Tobermory takes on a new student, Mike, an islander who has had to interrupt his education to support his family. Following clues from a chart in an old sea chest leads to high adventure and a dangerous encounter with a present-day pirate on Shark Island and the solution of the mystery of the disappearance of Mike’s father and other islanders.

    —CA

    Ages 12–14

    The Great Wave of Tamarind (The Book of Tamarind #3). Nadia Aguiar. 2017. Feiwel and Friends.

    The Great Wave of TamarindIt has been seven years since Penny Nelson visited Tamarind with her older siblings, Simon and Maya. Now at the age of 12, she must return to the magical island on her own. Beloved Granny Pearl has identified signs of a potentially devastating event that will occur in Tamarind in the immediate future that only Penny can prevent. Penny bravely journeys out into the ocean and mysteriously crosses the Blue Line that will allow her to reach Tamarind. With the help of two young islanders, she competes in three dangerous challenges to select the next Bloom Catcher, who is to retrieve the magical Bloom from a coming Great Wave that will save Tamarind from destruction by a devilish mandrill. Aguiar’s spectacular world-building in this beautifully crafted quest/survival story set on the lost island of Tamarind brings the trilogy to a satisfying conclusion.

    —CA

    Life, Loss, and Lemonade (Mostly Miserable Life of April Sinclair #8). Laurie Friedman. 2017. Darby Creek/Lerner.

    Life, Loss, and LemonadeSometimes life is unfair. The pottery store in which Alice planned to celebrate her 15th birthday burns down, her grandmother is readmitted to the hospital for a collapsed lung following her cancer treatment, and her best friend, Sophie, is moving. In addition, Alice’s almost-boyfriend, Leo, announces he is leaving for Costa Rica and won’t be around this summer. She also carries the burden of secrets—why Brynn dropped her as a friend; that Sophie invited her boyfriend, Billy, to visit her in New York but didn’t mention it to Alice; and that Billy isn’t sure about going to visit Sophie—all while dealing with the impending loss of her grandmother. April must dig deep to find strength and solutions in this final installment of the series. Life, Loss, and Lemonade is a satisfying stand-alone novel, which may lead readers to earlier books in the series.

    —NB

    Ages 15+

    Blacksouls (Blackhearts #2). Nicole Castroman. 2017. Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster.

    BlacksoulsAs this reimagined historical sequel to Blackhearts (2016) opens, after biracial Anne sails across the Atlantic Ocean on the Providence to Nassau, a Caribbean island rife with political intrigue, treachery, and piracy, to reunite with her love, Edward “Teach” Drummond (the future pirate known as Blackbeard). Once in Nassau, Anne is whipped and jailed when she warns the governor (who doesn’t believe her) that his wife is poisoning him. On his voyage to Nassau as first mate on the Deliverance, a Drummond merchant ship, Teach confronts the incompetent and cruel captain to save the crew from fiery deaths at the hands of enemy Spanish ships. Upon landing, he is threatened with the accusation of mutiny, a crime punishable by death. Blackmailed by Nassau’s Governor Webb into carrying out a dangerous mission in exchange for his own life and those of his crew— and with rescued, injured Anne smuggled aboard from a prison cell into his new ship’s quarters—Teach must decide who to trust in this swashbuckling revenge tale of adventure, betrayal, and deceit.

    —NB

    Lord of Shadows (The Dark Artifices #2). Cassandra Clare. 2017. Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster.

    Lord of ShadowsIn this sequel to Lady Midnight (2016), Los Angeles Institute Shadowhunters regroup after warlock Malcomb Fade’s death opens the portal for demons to reenter their realm. Emma Carstairs and Julian Blackthorne continue to fight their love curse, while Mark Blackthorne (home after his captivity in the faerie Hunt) struggles to find his place among his Shadowhunter half-siblings. The Seelie faerie Queen coerces Emma, Julian, Mark, and Cristina (a visiting Shadowhunter) to leave the L.A. Institute to find the Black Volume of the Dead, a spellbook she can use against the Unseelie King, the Lord of the Shadows (not knowing that he will stop at nothing to get his hands on it) in exchange for ending the divisive Cold Peace Treaty between Shadowhunters and Seelie Court faeries. Will the quest of the young Shadowhunters be successful and peace be restored, or will it be too late to undo the horrifying events that have been set in motion?

    —NB

    Nancy Brashear is Professor Emeritus of English from Azusa Pacific University, in Azusa, California. Carolyn Angus is former director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

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    Five Questions with...Bridget Hodder (The Rat Prince)

    By Alina O'Donnell
     | Aug 10, 2017
    Bridget Hodder is the first-time author of The Rat Prince, a fairytale retelling of Cinderella. Previously an archaeologist, she currently works to help families who struggle with autism. Hodder lives with her family in New England.

    You studied European history and archaeology. How did you use your background to create the imaginary world of The Rat Prince?

    Bridget HodderWhen you've read a sufficient number of antiquated documents (and apparently, I have) it's easy for your mind to slip its moorings in the present and drift back into the remote past. This certainly helped with The Rat Prince.

    The basic story of is told from two points of view: Cinderella's, and that of Char, who is Prince of the Rats of the Northern Realm. Char doesn't know it yet, but he's in love with Cinderella—who's not as passive and cowardly as she appears. On the night of the big ball, Char's changed into a human footman by the fairy godmother. Together, he and Cinderella turn the legend upside down, bring the wicked stepmother to justice, and save the kingdom from a great threat. Besides finding a truly happy ending! 

    Because scholarly accuracy is important to me, I decided to set The Rat Prince in a fantasy kingdom, Angland, rather than in real-life England. This allowed me to weave the settings and customs of wildly different locales and time periods into the story, supercharging the fairytale elements without misrepresenting historical facts. For example, Queen Elizabeth I is glancingly referred to in the book as Queen Lisbeth of Nance...and there's a network of underground sewers in the book that's straight out of the book Les Miserables. (I confess, I haven't seen the play or the movie). 

    Which character resonates with you the most and why?

    There's something irresistible to me about Char, the Prince of the Rats. I admire his wholehearted zest for life, and the sense of humor that coexists with his honor and courage. Heroes don't always have to be serious. 

    I realized quite late in the game—after I'd already written the acknowledgements for the book—that the character of the Rat Prince had been inspired greatly by Reepicheep, the knightly Talking Mouse from the Chronicles of Narnia. In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, Reepicheep disappeared over a mysterious wave into the afterlife, never to be seen again. Apparently, I wasn't ready to say goodbye. Thanks, C.S. Lewis.

    Tell us about your writing journey. What were you doing previously, and what inspired you to write The Rat Prince?

    THE RAT PRINCEI started writing stories when I was four years old, and I never stopped. In fact, writing daily was so natural to me, I didn't realize till well into my adulthood that this was a logical career choice I ought to try. It was a bit like the music that plays in the background of a film—always there, echoing the experience of the main character and sometimes influencing it, but going unnoticed. 

    A Dorothy Sayers character once asked her former Oxford professor a question about how to choose the right path in life and career, "...how is one to know which things are really of overmastering importance?'' 

    ''We can only know that,'' said Miss de Vine, ''when they have overmastered us.''

    The Rat Prince overmastered me, and turned me into a full-time author. In fact, I always say that writing that book was more like spirit possession than inspiration. I literally heard a voice—Prince Char's voice—telling me to write the true story of Cinderella. It was my own heart, however, that told me to sell the book once it was written. When your heart talks, you'd better listen.

    Retellings allow us to subvert the conventions and stereotypes found in some original fairytales. How did you decide which elements of Cinderella to preserve and which elements to make more contemporary?

    The elements that bothered me most about the traditional "Cinderella" were my points of departure. Such as the emphasis on looks and wealth. Or the harrowing passivity of the main character. Or how about the utter lack of any actual romance in a tale that's sold to the world over as "romantic"? (Unless you find it romantic when an abused girl marries the richest, most powerful guy she can find without knowing a thing about him.) 

    There are also some gaping holes in the traditional plot. For example, why on earth would Cinderella's father allow her to be abused by her stepmother like that? Or, why would a handsome crown prince need a ball with all the ladies of the land in attendance in order to find a wife? 

    And, by the way, how come no one ever asks what happened to the wicked stepmother's first husband?

    Don't worry. All these questions have answers, and they're in the book!

    As an author and a former reading and language specialist in the public schools, what would you like to let teachers and parents know about your approach to literacy and learning?

    In our worthy quest to educate and inform, we sometimes lose sight of the fact that our strongest ally in the fight for literacy is good, gripping storytelling. Books need to entertain and enthrall, or we lose readers before they can learn. And the best learning is the kind that happens without the reader even realizing they're being taught. I try to put that into practice in the books I write. I weave in teachable philosophy, deep thought and compass points of conscience—they're there if you look—but first and foremost, I aim to write a cracking good read! 

    ....Thank you so much for having me! 
     
    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.
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    Human–Animal Connections

    Lesley Colabucci and Leigh Kaliss
     | Aug 07, 2017

    From classics like Charlotte’s Web to contemporary favorites like Because of Winn-Dixie, some of the best pieces of literature for children and young adults entwine the lives of humans and animals. The recently published books in this week’s column feature animals as compelling characters and companions to humans.

    Ages 4–8

    Princess Cora and the Crocodile. Laura Amy Schlitz. Ill. Brian Floca. 2017. Candlewick.

    Princess Cora When a princess struggles to find her voice and exert her independence, the most unexpected of characters comes to her rescue. In this slapstick, topsy-turvy fairy tale, an overworked (and over-bathed) princess wants a pet to break up the daily monotony of life as the queen-in-training. When her mother, father, and nanny all say no to a dog, she pens a letter to her godmother. A crocodile unexpectedly arrives and hijinks ensue as he takes her place for the day. Cora discovers what she’s been missing as well as the strength to stand up for what she wants. Young readers will laugh at the crocodile’s actions (which, in true crocodile fashion, involve some biting) and the happily-ever-after ending for both the princess and the cream puff-loving crocodile—and, perhaps, also learn something about the value of speaking their mind.

    —LK

    Shawn Loves Sharks. Curtis Manley. Ill. Tracy Subisak. 2017. Roaring Brook.

    Shawn Loves SharksShawn has a shark lamp, a shark alarm clock, a shark snow globe, and even a shark hoodie. When his teacher announces that each student will be drawing the name of a predator to research for a class project, Shawn is desperate to pick the great white shark. Unfortunately, his classmate Stacy picks the great white shark and Shawn gets the leopard seal. Shawn is devastated and tries to convince Stacy to switch with him. The two go back and forth arguing about their predators, and Shawn soon discovers that he might love seals too. The story is told through traditional narrative as well as speech bubbles and text embedded in the illustrations. Readers will enjoy the dynamics between Shawn and Stacy and the playful illustrations, including the various costumes Shawn’s cat wears throughout the book.

    —LC

    If Sharks Disappeared. Lily Williams. 2017. Roaring Brook.

    If Sharks DisappearedIn this informational book, a young girl helps tell the story of what would happen to the ocean’s ecosystem if sharks disappeared. The book functions well as both picture book and a nonfiction book, due to its interactive tone and cartoon-style illustrations. A vertical gatefold with the narrator fishing at the top dramatically captures the depth of the ocean as blue water turns darker. The end matter includes a glossary, a note on the endangered status of sharks, a “How You Can Help Save Sharks” list, an author’s note which encourages readers to do more research, a bibliography, and Internet resources.  

    —LC

    Ages 9–11

    CatStronauts: Mission Moon (CatStronauts #1). Drew Brockington. 2017. Little, Brown.

    CatStronautsThe world is facing an energy crisis like no one, not even the World’s Best Scientist, has ever seen. The problem approaches level cat-astrophe when the feline President acknowledges the situation. No power means more time for catnaps, but things get hairy when cats all over the world have to stop reading because of the darkness! With just sixty days of full power left, the CatStronauts are summoned to build a power plant on the moon. And that just scratches the surface. Major Meowser, Chief Science Officer Pom Pom, Technical Specialist Blanket, and Pilot Waffles face challenges galore as they try to save the world. Brockington’s lively and punny text and cartoon illustrations explore topics like teamwork, self-confidence, and leadership as well as environmental issues.

    —LK

    Otherwise Known as Possum. Maria D. Laso. 2017. Scholastic.

    Otherwise Known as PossumSet in the south in the 1930s, this book tells the story of Possum and her dog, Trav. Possum’s mother has passed away and her father decides to send her to school, despite her mother’s wish that “In a school you learn everything between four walls. I want you to learn the world.” Possum loves to read but resists school, worries that her father is dating the teacher, and finds herself in a battle with the teacher’s pet, whom her best friend Tully may have a crush on. Otherwise Known as Possum is beautifully written, with language that reflects the time and place as well as Possum’s creative thinking. Possum’s love of nature, rebellious attitude, and affection for her family and community make her a likeable character. Although her mom called her LizBetty, Possum fits her much better as she defies gender stereotypes, relies on camaraderie with Trav, and connects with her mom under the peach tree.

    —LC

    A Boy Called Bat. Elana K. Arnold. Ill. Charles Santoso. 2017. Walden Pond/HarperCollins.

    A Boy Called BatBixby Alexander Tam’s nickname, Bat, suits him just fine. Bat—a third grader on the autism spectrum—loves animals of all sorts, so when his veterinarian mom brings home a skunk kit, he cares for it and wants to keep it as a pet. There are a lot of reasons why a baby skunk is not a great pet, but in Bat’s case there are additional complications, including the fact that he spends weekends with his father. Bat’s sister Janie is not as excited about the skunk, whom she has named Thor. Bat is determined to be Thor’s caretaker for as long as he can, but he must learn about more than just skunks to prove to his mom that he’s up for the challenge. His desire to take care of Thor helps him to make connections with other people and engage in interactions he would usually avoid. Bat’s interior dialogue and the portrayal of his supportive family make for a realistic story, and the short chapters and black-and-white illustrations add to the overall appeal of this book.

    —LC

    Ages 12–14

    The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World. Shannon Hale & Dean Hale. Ill. Vitale Mangiatordi. 2017. Marvel.

    The Unbeatable Squirrel GirlFourteen-year-old Doreen Green is adjusting to her new school and community after moving from California to New Jersey. She’s anxious to find a new best friend but is struggling to fit in—maybe because of her secret squirrel tail and other squirrel-like traits. Then Doreen makes two new friends: classmate Ana Sofia and Tippy-Toe, her first squirrel friend in her new community. The book alternates with chapters written from Doreen’s and Tippy-Toe’s voices and includes fun footnotes as well as electronic forms of communication. Any superhero story requires an evil villain; in this story readers meet the Micro-Manager, who is out to trap Doreen and destroy the neighborhood. Can Doreen defeat the Micro-Manager? Will her parents stop her from discovering her full superpowers? Is she finally old enough to face the world as Squirrel Girl?

    —LC

    Storm Horse. Nick Garlick. 2017. Chicken House/Scholastic.

    Storm HorseStorm Horse follows the exploits of Flip, an orphaned adolescent boy who’s uprooted to live with his aunt and uncle on their farm on a remote island off the coast of Amsterdam. Flip is lonely until he rescues Storm, a feisty horse who nearly drowns after a boating accident. Finding companionship with his equine friend (also an outsider), Flip navigates the unfamiliar island and family and meets a fellow lost soul in Ghost Girl—a silent, constant presence who is working through her own grief. Garlick’s descriptions of setting and action make this coming-of-age-story a good choice for middle-grade readers.

    —LK

    Ages 15+

    Frogkisser! Garth Nix. 2017. Scholastic.

    Frogkisser!Humorous, clever, wild, and inventive, Garth Nix’s fantasy centers on Princess Anya and her quest to transform a frog prince back to his human form. On the run from her evil stepfather, who wants her dead so that he has a clear line to the throne, Anya encounters various friends, enemies, and perils. With her faithful companion, Ardent (a talking dog), Anya attracts a squad of misfits as she seeks the magic ingredients that will enable her to rescue the prince. Along the way, she learns about her privileged life and the many troubles outside the castle walls. A fun, magical journey that remains lighthearted even as Anya faces grave dangers, including marauding robbers and duplicitous witches, this novel is a welcomed addition to fun-filled and thought-provoking fantasy from a talented author.

    —LK

    Dreaming the Bear. Mimi Thebo. 2017. Wendy Lamb/Random House.

    Dreaming the BearDarcy and her family have moved from England to Yellowstone National Park for her father’s research. Darcy is not adjusting well to the climate and new environment (no Wi-Fi and no nearby shopping). After a bad case of pneumonia, she remains sickly and can’t attend school. Her physical and mental health may be worse than anyone suspects. When Darcy finds and cares for a wounded mother bear. Unfortunately, this relationship results in the bear becoming food-dependent and thus a danger to everyone. Darcy’s brother, Jem, and his best friend, Tony, are the first to recognize the mistake Darcy has made. They must figure out how and when to tell the authorities and if they can trust Darcy’s parents with the truth. As Darcy learns more about bears and about how both humans and bears survive in harsh winter conditions, readers may become as attached to the bear as they are to Darcy.

    —LC

    Lesley Colabucci is an associate professor of early, middle, and exceptional education at Millersville University, Millersville, PA. She teaches classes in children’s literature at the graduate and undergraduate level. Leigh Kaliss is the volunteer and outreach Coordinator at Lancaster Public Library in Lancaster, PA.

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    Great Reads From Conference Authors

    Sandip Wilson and Carolyn Angus
     | Jul 31, 2017

    Attendees who registered for Author Meetups at the ILA 2017 Conference & Exhibits had the opportunity to spend 10 minutes with each of seven authors in a chosen level (primary, mid-level, or young adult) to learn about their writing and their books. The books reviewed in this weekly column were all featured at Author Meetups.

    Ages 4–8

    Calling the Water Drum. LaTisha Redding. Ill. Aaron Boyd. 2016. Lee and Low.

    Calling the Water DrumHenri and his parents are in a rickety rowboat, fleeing Haiti in search of a better life in New York City. When the boat capsizes, only Henri is rescued. Henri arrives in the U.S. with only the red bucket his parents used to bail water and a letter with his uncle’s contact information. Encouraged by his uncle, Henri starts drumming on the bucket to express his grief, and eventually to connect with others. Watercolor paintings perfectly express the emotional tone of this poignant story of a young immigrant.

    —CA

    The Grand Canyon. Jason Chin. 2017. Roaring Brook.

    The Grand CanyonThis informational picture book follows a father and daughter as they explore the Grand Canyon. The illustrations, created with pen-and-ink, watercolor, and gouache, beautifully showcase the awe-inspiring majesty of the canyon. Sidebars detail the geology and ecology of the canyon and borders illustrate its rock strata, fauna, and flora.The story ends with a double gatefold showing the two explorers overlooking “the greatest canyon on Earth.”

    —CA

    Hattie & Hudson. Chris Van Dusen. 2017. Candlewick.

    Hattie and HudsonAs she paddles on a lake in her red canoe, Hattie’s singing lures a lonely green monster from his deep underwater cave. She is not afraid, but other boaters flee in panic. While the townspeople plan to get rid of “the Deadly Beast,” Hattie and her new friend (whom she names Hudson) must come up with a plan to convince them that they can all share and enjoy the lake.

    —CA

    Ninja!: Attack of the Clan (Ninja! #2). Arree Chung. 2017. Henry Holt.

    Aree ChungMaxwell is disappointed to find that Mama, sister Cassy, and Papa are too busy to help him hone his ninja skills. When he’s called to dinner one night, he finds no one at the table except the dog eating his miso soup. It’s a “SURPRISE ATTACK!” Colorful comic book-style panels show Ninja Maxwell defending himself against his ninja clan, despite sneaky little Cassy springing a totally unexpected move on him.

    —SW

    Raybot and Weebot! (Raybot #2). Adam F. Watkins. 2017. Price Stern Sloan/Penguin.

    Raybot and WeebotWhen a crate falls from a truck outside his junkyard, Raybot is delighted to find that it contains a little robot. However, Weebot’s activity level (“He rarely powers down, and he makes a lot of noise, even when it’s time to go to sleep.”) is overwhelming, and Raybot begins to long for his peaceful pre-Weebot life. Pair this book with Raybot (2016) for a fun-filled read aloud on robots.

    —CA

    The Space Disaster (The Mad Scientist Academy #3). Matthew McElligott. 2017. Crown/Random House.

    Mad Scientist When the planetarium computer malfunctions, Dr. Cosmic’s astronomy lesson (challenging the young monster students to identify where they are in the solar system) becomes a lesson in survival as they are literally sent into space. There is plenty of fun and science packed into this comic-paneled book. Students can read The Dinosaur Disaster (2015) and The Weather Disaster (2016) while waiting for Dr. Cosmic’s next science lessons.

    —CA

    Ages 9–11

    Abby in Wonderland (Whatever After: Special Edition). Sarah Mlynowski. 2017. Scholastic.

    Whatever AfterIn the 10 previous books in Mlynowski’s popular series, siblings Abby and Jonah find a magic mirror that leads them into fairy tale adventures. In this Whatever After special edition, Abby and her best friends Frankie and Robin are spending the day at the castle-like home of her not-such-a-good-friend Penny. The girls find themselves in Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland when Frankie falls into a hole in the backyard.

    —CA

    Katana at Super Hero High (DC Super Hero Girls #4). Lisa Yee. 2017. Random House.

    Super Hero HighWhile attending Super Hero High, Katana practices the sword skills she learned from her grandmother, the first woman Samurai warrior who mysteriously disappeared. When Katana finds herself guardian of 100 Samurai swords and the recipient of a mysterious haiku ending with the line “Prepare for battle,” all the super heroes need to use their special skills to help Katana battle the Dragon King, who intends to claim Muteki Sword, the legendary Invincible Sword.

    —SW

    Lucky Broken Girl. Ruth Behar. 2017. Nancy Paulsen/Penguin.

    Lucky Broken GirlAfter a bad car accident, 11-year-old Ruthie is in a full body cast. While spending the year lying flat in bed, she learns to see her life in a new way as she gains a better understanding of her Jewish Cuban family and its traditions, discovers new talents, and overcomes sorrow and disappointment in ways she does not expect.

    —SW

    Some Writer!: The Story of E. B. White. Melissa Sweet. 2016. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    Some Writer!Melissa Sweet uses a scrapbook-style compilation of letters, journals entries, family photos, manuscript excerpts, quotes, and her original mixed-media collage artwork and a warm narrative to present the life and work of beloved children’s book author E. B. White (1899-1985). Chapters on the writing of Stuart Little and Charlotte’s Web, which exemplify White’s love of words and his process of crafting them into stories, are particularly interesting.

    —CA

    The Sweetest Sound. Sherri Winston. 2017. Little, Brown.

    The Sweetest SoundShy Cadence fantasizes about performing, promising herself that someday she will share her secret talent: singing. When Candace and best friends Zara and Faith form a trio to compete for places in a Youth Choir, Faith suggests that she lip sync to Cadence’s singing to gain a solo role. Cadence must overcome her shyness, question friendships, and decide how she will keep the promise she has made to herself.

    —SW  

    Ages 12–14

    In the Shadow of Liberty: The Hidden History of Slavery, Four Presidents, and Five Black Lives. Kenneth C. Davis. 2016. Henry Holt.

    In the Shadow of LibertyDavis peels back the layers of history from George Washington’s move to Mount Vernon in 1757 to the death of Andrew Jackson’s personal slave, Alfred Jackson, in 1901. The book covers the views of four U.S. Presidents (George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and Andrew Jackson) toward slavery and their relationships with their slaves. Through the detailed narratives of five enslaved people against the backdrop of historical events, this book explores the role slavery played in the founding of America

    —SW

    Lily & Dunkin. Donna Gephart. 2016. Delacorte/Random House.

    Lily and DunkinLily & Dunkin is a powerful story about a new friendship between Lily, a transgender girl, and Dunkin, a boy dealing with bipolar disorder. Told in alternating first-person narratives, their stories unfold as tall Dunkin joins the basketball team, stops his medication for bipolar disorder to increase his stamina and speed, and turns his back on his friendship with Lily, who must face the bullying and torment of the other players alone.


    Piecing Me Together
    . Renée Watson. 2017. Bloomsbury.

    Piecing me TogetherAs part of her scholarship to prestigious St. Francis High School, Jade must participate in Women to Women, a mentorshop program for “at-risk” girls. Jade is skeptical about what her mentor, who appears to have many challenges of her own, can teach her. In learning to appreciate her identity and aspirations, Jade discovers she wants to develop her talent for collage art and to help people rather than be considered someone who needs help.

    —SW

    The Survivors Club: The True Story of a Very Young Prisoner of Auschwitz. Michael Bornstein & Debbie Bornstein Holinstat. 2017. Farrar Straus Giroux.

    Survivors ClubFour-year-old Michael Bornstein was one of the 52 children under the age of eight (out of the hundreds of thousands of children sent to Auschwitz) who were liberated by the Soviet Army in 1945. Based on extensive interviews and research, this personal story of survival during the Holocaust, from Nazi occupation of Michael’s hometown of Żarki, Poland, to immigration to the United States, ends with a photo album of Michael’s family, “The Survivors Club.”

    —CA

    Toni (Blacktop #4). LJ Alonge. Ill. Raul Allen. 2017. Grosset & Dunlap/Penguin.

    Blacktop ToniToni’s heart is in basketball, even though she is not very liked by Coach Wise or her teammates. Coach Wise tolerates her attitude until she punches a player on an opposing team and her team is dropped from league play. Toni, who has lived in group and foster homes her whole life, loses friends and her special interest in art, but a growing friendship challenges her to care about her family, Coach Wise, and her friends on the team in new ways. 

    —SW

    Ages 15+

    Girl Rising: Changing the World One Girl at a Time. Tanya Lee Stone. 2017. Wendy Lamb/Random House.

    Girl RisingInspired by the documentary film Girl Rising, Tanya Lee Stone explores how education can break the cycle of poverty. Based on video interviews, the narrative, accompanied by full-page photographs, presents stories of girls from Afghanistan, Cambodia, Egypt, Ethiopia, Haiti, India, Nepal, Peru, and Sierra Leone who tell how they survived experiences of slavery, rape, child labor, and forced marriage when they were not yet teenagers.

    —SW

    The Inexplicable Logic of My Life. Benjamin Alire Sáenz. 2017. Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

    The Inexplicable Logic of my LifeMild-mannered, patient Salvador, who lives with his adoptive gay Mexican-American father in El Paso, is confused by his intensely angry reaction to taunting by school bullies. He becomes more puzzled about his self-worth and identity on the death of his beloved grandmother and the reappearance of Dad’s former lover in their lives. As he ponders how to present himself in college application essays, Sal wonders what he can offer to friends and the world.

    —SW

    The You I’ve Never Known. Ellen Hopkins. 2017. Margaret K. McElderry/Simon & Schuster.

    The You I've Never KnownAriel, who has spent her life on the move with her alcoholic, abusive father, hopes to stay in Sonora, California, long enough to finish high school and escape his control. Seventeen-year-old Maya deliberately gets pregnant with a 27-year-old soldier, marries and accompanies him to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to avoid moving to Los Angeles with her Scientology-obsessed mother. The girls’ stories (told in free verse for Ariel and prose for Maya) come together deftly in Hopkins’s beautifully-crafted novel.

    —CA

    Wildman. J. C. Geiger. 2017. Hyperion/Disney.

    WildmanValedictorian, college-bound Lance Hendricks is returning to his home in Oregon from a music audition in Seattle when his cherished Buick, a gift from his father who abandoned him, breaks down in a tiny town. While repairs are made and his mother and friends call and text arranging to get him home to the life he has planned, Lance finds himself in a culture he doesn’t understand and discovers new ways of being that he could never have imagined.

    —SW

    Sandip LeeAnne Wilson serves as professor in the School of Education and the English Department of Husson University, Bangor, Maine. Carolyn Angus is former Director of the George G. Stone Center for Children's Books, Claremont Graduate University, in Claremont, California.

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    Five Questions With... Lynn Joseph (Dancing in the Rain)

    By Lynn Joseph
     | Jul 25, 2017

    Lynn JosephLynn Joseph is a Trinidadian author of children's and young adult picture books set mostly in the Caribbean. Dancing in the Rain follows two Caribbean families, one in the Dominican Republic and one in New York, who find their lives intertwined following the 9/11 attacks. The book was awarded Third Prize in the 2015 Burt Award for Caribbean Literature and was named a Kirkus Best Book of 2016. Previous books include A Wave in Her Pocket, An Island Christmas, and The Color of My Words

    Dancing in the Rain was published in 2016, 15 years after the 9/11 events. What inspired you to write the book then?

    I wasn’t inspired to write Dancing in the Rain recently. I began writing the story that became this novel many years ago, probably about three or four years after September 11, 2001, as a means of  coming to terms with the horrific events and circumstances that I had witnessed firsthand. The book is semi-autobiographical as I, too, was a lawyer in New York City, who escaped back to the Caribbean in the wake of the experience. In my case I moved from New York to the U.S. Virgin Islands three months after 9/11 and because of 9/11. The Caribbean was and still is my home and I felt the urgent need to move back to my roots. 

    In the book’s summary, you mention Elizabeth’s vivid imagination. How does her imagination serve her and others in the face of tragedy?

    Elizabeth’s imagination is both a symbol of innocence and a source of power. I believe that by allowing your imagination to develop and have a life, you can access your internal restorative power. So, imagining this story and writing it down allowed me to heal from the post traumatic stress of 9/11. An imagination is powerful when you can recreate your world, the way Elizabeth does when she cannot accept all the sadness around her. Elizabeth’s imagination also feeds her intuition, which is very powerful. 

    I’ve read that most of your books are inspired by your childhood in Trinidad. What elements of Dancing in the Rain are influenced by your own memories and experiences?

    Dancing in the Rain was influenced by the events of my life during and after 9/11. That tragedy opened my eyes to the horrors humans are capable of firsthand. Children today are aware of terrorist incidents worldwide. This book deals with how two children and their families deal with such loss and grief stemming from atrocious acts. It’s a reminder that no matter how bleak and sinister the world may seem at times, it’s imperative to find joy in the darkness.

    Dancing in the Rain takes place both in New York and the Dominican Republic. How do each of these settings influence the book’s major themes?

    Setting the book in New York was necessary to establish the close ties between the characters to the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. Moving the story to the beautiful island of Dominican Republic, with its tropical splendor and struggles, represents a new start for one family. For the other family, whose connection to the Twin Towers is more remote, the pain is even harder as they lost a father and husband. Distance does not make the tragedy any easier to bear. 

    This book shows two families’ responses to 9/11. Of all the characters, whose perspective resonated with you the most, and why?

    Of all the characters in the story, I would say that the perspectives of Elizabeth and Brandt resonated equally with me. Seeing the events through their eyes, seeing their hope and struggles to overcome the loss and pain, woke me up and helped me to heal. I am a big believer in shifting your perspective if you can’t prevail in your path. A simple shift, looking at a situation in a totally different way, may be all you need. That’s what Dancing in the Rain represents to me. 

    Alina O'Donnell is the editor of Literacy Daily.
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