Curse of Specter Queen: Book 1 of a New Fun Series

Curse of the Specter Queen by Jenny MokeCindy: We haven’t even told you anything about this novel yet, but by the time we do, you’ll be delighted to know that Curse of the Specter Queen (Disney/Hyperion, June 8, 2021) by Jenny Elder Moke is the start of a new series, because your younger teens are going to want to continue to adventure with this crew. Samantha Knox is the quiet star of the cast that includes her wealthy estranged best friend, Joana and her brother Bennett, Sam’s childhood crush. When a mysterious ancient diary arrives in the mail at the antique book shop where Sam works, it sets in motion a reuniting of these friends as they  begin a high stakes version of the puzzle-solving ciphering they did as kids for Jo and Bennett’s father. Sam always took that play seriously but now she may be in over her head. The mystery, set in the 1920s during Prohibition takes them to Ireland, where Jo is more interested in the pubs than the monastery in the country where they are to stay. Her sarcastic banter and love of fashion provides some lighter moments to counter the dangerous and frightening situations the teens face while trying to find an ancient relic to stop a world-threatening curse. This will make a great read-alike series for fans of Jonathan Stroud’s Lockwood & Co series.

Lynn:  This book was such a treat! Reading it was a welcome escape from the ongoing stresses of our current situation. Curse of the Specter Queen is packed with just the sorts of elements I relish most in a book: a smart book-loving but self-effacing and insecure heroine who finds her strengths, an ancient curse, a twisty plot full of mysterious clues, a great setting, and lots of red herrings! Who could want more? Besides the compelling plot, I thoroughly enjoyed the depictions of the long-time friends whose had friendship had foundered on misunderstandings and that of the bickering siblings. I can’t resist a book with ciphers and codes and this one delivered!

I appreciate the many books being published today that take on world-crushing issues and portray situations that have been historically oppressive. Those are badly needed. But we also need books that entertain, that lift us beyond difficult and challenging times. We need treats in our lives just as much as we need the meat. Curse of the Specter Queen is just such a treat for so many readers. Huzzah for Samantha Knox and her adventures to come.

 

Turtle in Paradise as Graphic Novel

Turtle in Paradise the Graphic Novel by Jennifer L HolmCindy:  Jennifer L. Holm’s Newbery Honor historical fiction Turtle in Paradise (Random, 2010) is getting a new graphic novel edition (RH Graphic, May 4, 2021) with art by Savanna Ganucheau and colorist Lark Pien! I couldn’t be happier as it is sure to bring new young readers to the story, perhaps in both formats. The cover is painted in wide swaths of Key West seaside-inspired hues that are used throughout the panels inside as the story of 11-year-old Turtle’s time with her aunt and boy cousins unfolds. I read the original novel on a Florida beach in 2010 and in a post we wrote for the Booklist Reader, I said:

This book, like a conch shell, slowly builds on itself as each episodic story is added. The boys (Beans, Slow Poke, Kermit and Pork Chop) call themselves the Diaper Gang and earn candy by watching babies for weary neighborhood mothers. The story, set in 1935, is a fun and touching look at a tough time for both Turtle and the Key West community she’s been dropped into.

It’s a fun trip to read it again in this new format. 

Lynn:  What a treat to meet Turtle and the Diaper Gang once more! I have to think that the Diaper Gang would be in huge demand today with exhausted pandemic families! Maybe some enterprising young readers will seize the chance.

The story has moved seamlessly into graphic format and illustrator Savanna Ganucheau and Colorist Lark Pien have used the perfect palette of warm island colors to evoke the setting of this charming story.

A wonderful addition to this GN version is the new back matter. Jennifer Holm writes of her family connection to Key West. Her Conch Great-Grandmother emigrated there in the 1800’s and Holm has memories of visiting there as a child. Included are some wonderful photos of Key West in the 1930’s. There is also a note from Illustrator Ganucheau.

If you’ve read the original, don’t miss this charming new version and if you are new to Turtle’s stories, be sure to read both formats!

 

Bookends Productivity vs Spring Bird Migration

Yellow-rumped Warbler photo by Cindy Dobrez
Yellow-rumped Warbler – Cindy Dobrez

Cindy and Lynn: If you notice a decrease in our posts this month and next, we are not responsible. Nope. We’re sorry, but we’re not. Despite temperatures in the 30s this week in Western Michigan and snow not far from us, spring bird migration season is upon us and our favorite Butter Butts (Yellow-rumped Warblers) have made it to our yards and parks.

tree-swallow-photo-by-lynn-rutan
Tree Swallow – Lynn Rutan

The rest of the warblers are not far behind and we are spending as much time outside with our eyes in binoculars as we are with our eyes in books. We are here for our faithful readers, we really are, but when there’s a chance of spotting an American Woodcock doing it’s 200-300 foot aerial mating display or sighting a lifer Cerulean Warbler, we’re sorry, but we may have to get back to you. 🙂

Autographed Books: Like, Feed

Feed by MT AndersonCindy: I’ve recently added some bookshelves in my house (yay!), which prompted a reorganization of my collections. As I sorted and tried to purge some books, I also had my hands on old favorites that won’t be moved along. Some of my favorites come from award committees or special publisher events where I picked up personalized autographs from favorite authors. Lynn and I thought it might be fun to start an occasional feature of some of our autographed books and any stories that might accompany them. Well, at least those that we have permission to share. Let us know what you think.

One of my very favorites came from my first meeting with M.T. Anderson. 2002 was my second year serving on ALA’s Best Books for Young Adults and Feed was a National Book Award Finalist. At the time, I had middle school age daughters who used the word, “like,” more often than the characters slinging slang in Anderson’s futuristic story about never being able to turn off the “feed” because it has been implanted in your brain. At the dinner, I told Tobin that I’d started charging my daughters 25 cents per “like” used incorrectly, mostly because the bad habit had spread to my own speech. One night at dinner I began to sound like an auctionneer: “25, 50, 75 cents, a dollar!” We laughed and when he later signed my book, this was the autograph! I, like, cherish it, like, immensely!

Eyes that Kiss in the Corners: an AAPI Own Voices Picture Book

Cindy: If you are as dismayed as we are by the numerous racial attacks on members of the Asian American and Pacific Islander communities, this new book will give you some comfort. Last week’s publisher delivery of Eyes that Kiss in the Corners (Harper, 2021) by Joanna Ho couldn’t have arrived at a better time.

When a young girl realizes that her eyes are very different from her round-eyed friends, she describes them as “eyes that kiss in the corners and glow like warm tea.” They are just like her mama’s. Her description grows with each family member as she describes her mother’s, Amah’s, and baby sister’s eyes.

My eyes crinkle into crescent moons
and sparkle like the stars.
Gold flecks dance and twirl
while stories whirl
in their oolong pools,
carrying tales of the past
and hope for the future….

The girl’s understanding of her beauty, her strength, her family, and her story grows throughout the book into a revolution and an appreciation of who she is and the worth she has. Dung Ho’s digital illustrations showcase nature and legend in addition to the females’ eyes and will delight readers young and old. This book belongs in every library collection for young people and should be read aloud to groups of children of all ethnicities. Count this as a solid addition to Own Voices literature.

Serving on the Lee Bennett Hopkins Children’s Poetry Award Jury

Cindy: The 2021 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award was announced this week and I’m delighted to share the news with all of you. It’s been hard to keep the winners under wrap while waiting for the press release but now we’ve been given permission to reveal the title that took the prize.

Our jury of five selected Lois Lowry’s On the Horizon (HMH, 2020) a verse memoir of her childhood during World War II as the winner of the 2021 Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award. We also selected two honor books, Ice: Poems About Polar Life, written and illustrated by Douglas Florian (Holiday House, 2020) and Punching the Air, by Ibi Zoboi and Yusef Salaam (Harper/Balzer + Bray, 2020).  The press release provides more information about the books and the award. Additional jury members’ comments about each winning title can be found on this year’s award page.

When I was invited to serve as the chair of this committee back in August 2020 by the Pennsylvania Center for the Book’s Director, Karla Schmidt, I was honored and I didn’t yet know that would mean getting to work with admired and award-winning poets Marilyn Nelson and Tony Medina—definitely a bonus and a great experience. I also had the joy of working with Karen O’Connell, coordinator of the Arkansas Center for the Book, and Suzanne Walker, Indiana Young Readers Center librarian, knowledgeable and dedicated jury members as well. What a fun time we had with this dream job of being tasked to read poetry!

We all thoroughly enjoyed the months of reading the wealth and diversity of poetry for youth and picking a single winner is always hard. I’m thankful for the inclusion of our two honor award titles. Lowry, Florian, and Zoboi & Salaam’s titles show excellence at every audience level of the award’s age 0-14 criteria and all of them will beg to be read again and again just as we jury members did when we were preparing to discuss and select our winner.

Many fine titles were not given awards and I’d love to highlight some of those, but that’s not allowed. Trust me that there are many poetry gems waiting to be found in your local libraries and bookstores every year. Don’t miss them.

I’m sorry that I never got a chance to meet Lee Bennett Hopkins before his death in 2019. I’m grateful for the many books he wrote and edited for children; I used many of them over my three and half decades of public and school librarianship. What an honor and a treat to be a small part of this award.

M.B. Goffstein Fans Rejoice! Reissues Are Coming!

Cindy: I first encountered M.B. Goffstein‘s books at my first professional job as a public children’s librarian in 1984. I read Sleepy People (1966) and was hooked. I still yawn even thinking about that book with a small family living in a slipper drinking hot cocoa. I’ve wanted to purchase it, but rare copies sell in the hundreds of dollars. You can imagine the joy of finding a review package from The New York Review Children’s Collection on my doorstop with not one but TWO M.B. Goffstein reissues inside! Fish for Supper and Brookie and Her Lamb will be back in print on March 2nd.

Brookie and Her Lamb (Farrar, 1967) is the only Goffstein book I own so I am able to compare the second edition with this new NYRB release. Gone is the paper jacket and the little pink flowers surrounding the cover illustration. Gone, too, is the jacket flap information that tells readers the message of the book. The rest of the book is delightfully intact. Opening it to see Goffstein’s pen and ink spare illustrations is a joy all over again. A drawing of Brookie taking her lamb for a walk with the jaunty pair viewed from the back just makes one smile. This is a story of unconditional love and so much more. “Brookie had a little lamb and she loved him very much.” She taught him to sing and read, but he could only sing “Baa, baa, baa.” And he could only read, “Baa, baa, baa.” She loved him anyhow. I always found it magical how Goffstein could say so much with so few words and such nuanced, but seemingly simple, illustrations. According to the press release, “Goffstein once said it took nine hours to draw a vacuum cord just right.” Mary may have had a little lamb, but I’ll take Brookie and Her Lamb any day! And, here’s to more Brooke Goffstein reissues…PLEASE!

Lynn: the New York Review is also re-releasing Goffstein’s 1977 Caldecott Honor book, Fish for Supper. This was the first Goffstein book that I remember meeting. This is the charming story of the determinedly independent old lady who goes out early, fishes all day, eats her catch and prepares to happily do it all over again the next day. I fell in love with it all over again, perhaps because I’m a grandmother now myself!

These new editions are in the small trim size and the covers look much the same although the tiny flowers on the first editions have been removed for a cleaner look. Don’t miss these!

Pandemic Comfort in a Picture Book: Outside, Inside

Cindy: Adults have been struggling for the past year during our Covid-19 Pandemic, but we all wonder how the children doing who may not understand the changes around them, or who are having trouble coping with them? Awarding winning author-illustrator LeUyen Pham’s latest picture book Outside, Inside (Roaring Brook, 2021) is just the literary vaccination and we all need.

“Something strange happened on an unremarkable day just before the season changed. Everybody who was OUTSIDE…went INSIDE.”

So begins this story about empty streets, learning from home, drive-by birthday parties, and people who did what they needed to do because, well, it was the right thing to do. Pham shows people all over the world responding to the virus and pandemic, neither ever named, and highlights how we have changed and grown and reached out to those in need. The book is quiet, just as the outside world quieted a bit from fewer vehicles. As tired as the phrase might be, “We are all in this together,” and this story gives us hope that we’ll come out the other side of this pandemic improved in some ways, despite our significant losses.

Lynn: How do you explain the past year to a small child? How do we adults help them to understand, to cope with the changes, the sacrifices and the fear? I don’t know the answer to that question and I suspect it is going to be several years before all of us completely heal from the many ways this virus has afflicted us. A wonderful starting point though is this incredibly skillful and moving book.

LeUyen Pham speaks directly to small children here. She writes in simple sentences, with simple vocabulary and pairs her text with images that children everywhere will recognize. Pham’s illustrations are warmly comforting, showing everyday people and families, the world inside and the world outside. Vignettes include scenes of health care and front line workers in their important jobs and also scenes of families trying to live as normally as possible. The virus is never actually mentioned, instead Pham reflects the abrupt change in lives of people everywhere and the hope we all have of being outside once again.

How do you explain COVID shutdown to children? I don’t know that there is any other answer than the one found here.

“So why did we all go inside? Well…

there were lots of reasons. But mostly because everyone knew

it was the right thing to do.”

There is a wonderful Author’s Note that mustn’t be missed! In it Pham reflects on the past year. She says that her “career has been devoted to drawing the world as I would like to see it….This is the first time I have cataloged the world as it is.” I love the simplicity of this book and the way that it offers children a reflection of their often baffling experiences as well as the important message that we are in this together. I was so moved by this book! It is a quiet gem and one that our children need to experience. I think the biggest challenge when it comes to sharing this will be for adult readers to make it through without weeping! But that too is part of what we all need to acknowledge as we move forward together.

Unsolved Case Files: D.B. Cooper

Cindy: Have we got a new series for you to put on standing order! Escape at 10,000 Feet (Balzer+Bray/HarperAlley, March 2020) by Tom Sullivan is the first book in the new Unsolved Case Files series based on real FBI cases. This graphics-intensive nonfiction title features the D.B. Cooper case, the only unsolved U.S. airplane highjacking case. On Nov. 24, 1971 a man in his 40s wearing a business suit and carrying a briefcase entered the Portland International Airport and bought a $20 one-way ticket to Seattle. Once seated in the back of the plane he lit a cigarette and handed a note to a flight attendant. The note?

Miss, I have a bomb here and I would like you to sit next to me.

From there, readers not familiar with the case learn about D.B. Cooper’s demands, the heist of $200,000, and the decades-long search for Cooper and the money. Young readers will be riveted with the details, including the astounding discovery of $5800 of the marked bills by an 8-year-old boy in 1980. Did Cooper survive the jump? If so where is he, and where is the rest of the money? A year or so ago a sixth-grade boy asked me if I had any books about D.B. Cooper. I wish I’d had this book then. The next in the series is Jailbreak at Alcatraz (Sept. 2021). I can’t wait!

Lynn: I know that there is crime and possible death at the heart of this unsolved crime but honestly, what a total hoot this book is!! Today’s kids are far too young to remember the show Dragnet but Tom Sullivan writes with a terrific deadpan Dragnet’s “Joe Friday” voice that is perfect for the topic. OK—most of you faithful readers are probably way too young to remember Dragnet too. So just take my word for it, this is Joe Friday with a sly sense of humor. Since this unsolved crime took place in 1971 when a LOT of things were different, Sullivan had to provide some background information for kids. The hijacker, for example, simply carried his briefcase/bomb on board with him, so one sidebar explains that, yes, in 1971 you just walked on a plane without ever having your baggage security checked. After settling into his seat, the hijacker ordered a drink, lit a cigarette, and handed a note to the stewardess. Here the sidebar assures readers that in 1970 people could smoke anywhere as astonishing as that sounds today. Sidebars also add a wild assortment of related ephemera that is irresistible, such as a diagram of the critically important rear staircase or what all the markings are on a $20 bill or a map of where the 3 bundles of marked bills were found nine years later by some campers.

I love the illustrations in this graphic novel too. Not to mix my references but the style reminds me of another icon of my childhood, the comic Dick Tracy, the crime-fighting hero with a geometric square jaw and unsmiling visage. The drawings are a perfect match to the just-the-facts, ma’am text. I read this in galley so I haven’t yet seen the promised photos from the FBI Files on the case that are to be included in the finished copy but I’m eager to.

Elementary and middle school librarians—you are going to need a zillion copies of this book to meet demand once the kids see it!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Talk Like a River – A Perfect Pairing of Text and Illustration

Cindy:  It mystifies me that people can still be mean to others for their looks, their disabilities, and other things out of their control. Little is more isolating or heartbreaking than the loneliness of being singled out or mocked or bullied for something that is just a part of who you are. No matter how many “Kindness Matters” or “Be Kind” movements there are, we still have work to do to spread compassion. I Talk Like a River (Holiday/Neal Porter Books, 2020) by Jordan Scott and illustrated beautifully by Sydney Smith, shines a light on one such effort. The young boy in this book stutters. With poetic metaphor, Scott writes of words that take root and stick and turn to dust in his mouth. Speaking aloud in front of a class often makes for a “bad speech day.” His father can tell and offers to “go somewhere quiet.” They head to the river, a favorite place, where his father one day points out the movement in the river, the bubbling, churning, whirling, crashing. But after the rapids are calm places where the river flows smoothly and he tells his son, “You Talk Like a River.” That line comes from Scott’s own father, who helped him with his own stuttering. This will make a beautiful read aloud in a classroom and would pair well with Jacqueline Woodson’s Each Kindness.

Lynn: We were lucky enough to see this book in galley at a Midwinter preview a year ago and it has been on my to-read list ever since. The finished copy is even more outstanding than I remembered. Sometimes the text of a picture book and the illustrations aren’t always equal in quality but that is not the case here. Rarely have I seen a case of the two coming together so perfectly. The text is deeply moving with writing that is ideal for a young audience and metaphors that every child can grasp.

“The P in pine tree grows roots in my mouth and tangles my tongue.

The C is a crow that sticks in the back of my throat.”

The illustrations are perfectly partnered with the text. Some are luminously beautiful, especially the scenes of the river. Some are ominous and threatening such as when the class has turned to stare when the boy is called on to answer in the classroom. Using watercolor, ink, and gouache, illustrator Sydney Smith’s art doesn’t just extend the text, it amplifies each emotion and experience. There is a gatefold center spread that opens to a shimmering image of the boy standing in the river backlit by the sun that is stunning! There are no words here but the images refract the overall healing sense of the place, the experience, and the father’s love and support.

Readers will come away from this book with a clear sense of the struggles the child experiences with his stutter and that is valuable. Perhaps more valuable is the underlying knowledge that the child is loved, supported, and understood and the strength that provides.

Update: We had this post in the queue and missed getting it published before the book was honored at ALA Midwinter with a 2021 Schneider Family Book Award for Younger Children. Congratulations!