Ho Ho Ho…liday Books

Cindy and Lynn: For our readers who celebrate Christmas, we have two picture books to add to your holiday shelves or stockings. For all of our readers, we want to say thank you, and wish you a Happy New Year. We are taking a short break from posting to enjoy the holidays and to begin making our special Bookends Award lists for the 2019 publishing year. In the meantime, enjoy these two fun stories!

Cover art for the book Ho Ho HomeworkThat new substitute teacher sure looks familiar in Mylisa Larsen’s Ho Ho Homework (Harper, 2019). Mr. Clausen has a white beard and black boots, his laugh sounds like ho, ho, ho, and he serves milk and reindeer shaped cookies at snack time. The class is sure he is Santa, but Jack isn’t convinced. This is a simple, but happy look at a classroom celebration of the holiday that includes lessons for making a snowflake and adding a wish to the back. Is Santa real? This story with a diverse mix of children (other than everyone celebrates Christmas) will be a good read-aloud for similar classes.

Cover art of the book There's an Elf in Your BookNaughty elves are showing up everywhere, and this time There’s an Elf in Your Book (Random House, 2019). The elf in this book puts forth challenges to see if children can make Santa’s Nice List. He asks them to do a series of things like touch their nose, or blow a Christmas kiss, but they have to be careful because the elf will try to trick them into doing silly naughty things sure to make them giggle. Children who make it through the elf’s participatory tests will be rewarded with an “Official Nice List Certificate.”

 

 

Too Good to Miss: Middle Grade Roundup

Cindy and Lynn: You’ve heard the saying, “So many books, so little time.” Well, we have a stack of books that we HAVE read this year but just haven’t gotten around to blogging. The year is wrapping up soon and we are eager to move on to 2020 titles, but first, some middle grade and middle school favorites.

The Absence of Sparrows, by Kurt Kirchmeier (Little, Brown, 2019)

Perhaps the oddest book you will read all year—part family story, part magical realism. Ben’s observations of birds quickly veer into watching the people in his town turn to glass statues as a strange cloud passes through. The phenomenon is happening worldwide, but there is a voice on the radio urging group action to turn things around. Debut novelist, Kirchmeier is an author to watch as closely as you might observe the sparrows.

All the Greys on Greene Street, by Laura Tucker (Viking, 2019)

A debut book that hits the mark in all categories. There is lyrical descriptive writing here that takes readers into a first-hand experience of being an artist and seeing the world through a young artist’s eyes. 1981 Soho is the setting for this story of 12-year-old Olympia who’s art restorer father has suddenly left. Ollie’s sculptor mother has gone to bed and can’t or won’t get up. Ollie tries to hide the situation from her friends, figure out the mystery of where and why her father has gone. And what about those mysterious threatening phone calls coming to the apartment? A poignant story dealing with issues of depression, family, friendship, and the importance of art and creativity.    

The Bridge Home, by Padma Venkatraman (Penguin/Nancy Paulsen, 2019)

Patricia McCormick wrote the powerful book Sold, set on the streets of Calcutta. Padma Venkatraman has written the book about homeless children on the streets of India that I have wanted to share with my younger students who aren’t ready for McCormick’s. Adults are often not kind to children and family is often something you find, not what you are born into. This novel full of sadness and hope should be in all elementary and middle school library collections.

The Door at the End of the World, by Caroline Carlson (Harper, 2019)

Deputy Gatekeeper Lucy Ebersley enjoys her work, helping process the many travelers who go through the gate to the next worlds even though she has never once gone through the gate herself. But when the Gatekeeper disappears, a mysterious boy falls through the gate and the door refuses to open, Lucy has to put down her rubber stamp and begin a wild adventure that will change everything. This delightful fantasy is filled with clever humor, fantastic world-building, and a cheerfully chaotic plotting that reminds me strongly of the great Diana Wynne Jones.

Free Lunch, by Rex Ogle (Norton, 2019)

The only nonfiction on this list, Free Lunch is a memoir of Ogle’s middle school struggles as a poor and hungry young man living a tough life made harder by the humiliation heaped on him at school. We were grateful to see this on the 2020 YALSA Excellence in Nonfiction shortlist as the experiences and Ogle’s moving storytelling span many age groups.

Scary Stories for Young Foxes, by Christian McKay Heidicker (Holt, 2019)

A group of young fox kits demands their mother tell them a story “so scary our eyes will fall out of our heads.” Her story offerings disappoint, deemed “kits’ stuff,” so they sneak out to Bog Cavern to hear the old storyteller share some truly scary stories. On this premise, a series of frightful tales are spun, featuring two young foxes who face many perils. One of the dangers is capture by the creepiest rendering of Beatrix Potter you are ever likely to see!

 

YA Cover Trend: Need a New Haircut?

Cindy and Lynn: If you’re looking for a new haircut style, look no further than these two recent YA novels that feature identical cuts and NO features! 😉 The similarities end there, though, as the stories couldn’t be more different. Death Prefers Blondes (Feiwel, 2019) by Caleb Roehrig is a thriller about a band of drag queen cat burglars. Booklist’s review includes this statement: “Balancing Oceans 11–level heists, corporate espionage, and gender and sexual identity politics isn’t easy, but Roehrig manages it with aplomb, skillfully threading in Hamlet references to boot. Clever, thrilling, and a wildly good time.”

Meanwhile, Scars Like Wings (Delacorte, 2019) by Erin Stewart is a story of resilience in the face of life-changing tragedy after a fire brings loss and scars to a teen girl. School Library Journal’s verdict is: “Ava’s journey toward healing, both physically and mentally, is thought-provoking. Not all scars are evident to the eye, and this narrative will push readers to think deeply about empathy, hope, and resilience in the face of heartbreak.”

We’re ready to take a turn in the stylist’s chair if it involves a chance to read one of these two new teen books.

 

 

 

 

Owling: Whoooo Needs This Book? You Do!

Cindy: “You might not realize it, but you need to see an owl.” That’s the opening line of Owling (Storey, 2019) and you not only need to see an owl, but you need to see this book. Starting with a glow-in-the-dark cover, this large square book holds a wealth of fascinating details and gorgeous photographs of the 19 owls species that breed and nest in the United States and Canada. Can owls really turn their heads 360 degrees? How do an owl’s uneven ears help him pinpoint prey? These and other questions are answered in engaging text. Most welcome is the author Mark Wilson’s challenge to common owl “facts” not documented by research studies and his admission when his long study of owls leaves him without sure answers. Research never ends and we rarely have all the answers. 2-4 page spreads feature a specific owl species with a selection of photos, range maps, feather detail, size, behavior, voice, nesting behavior, menu, or other interesting features. The section on Poop and Pellets is sure to be a hit with the target audience, particularly if they’ve ever dissected an owl pellet to learn about an owl’s diet. The section on how to spot an owl has helpful tips that may produce success for young (and old) birders. Lynn heard about this book and then I received a review copy and have been reluctant to hand it over, but we can’t wait any longer to hoot about its publication. Owling is a perfect identification guide for a young birder, but it is so much more, and it has a place in elementary and middle school libraries and elementary science classrooms. Whooooo needs this book? You do!

Lynn: I really appreciate how this outstanding book is organized, the wonderfully researched information presented, and how much is packed into the book. But I need to mention the sheer audience appeal of the production. Talk about a kid magnet! Put this gorgeous book on display and watch it instantly fly off the shelf. Mark Wilson’s photographs almost steal the show. Every single page has a gallery of jaw-dropping pictures that beg to be studied. The images range from small collections illustrating a particular point to full-page photographs that are works of art. The painted illustrations by Jada Fitch are amazing, too.

I learned so much! The small sections showing what each of the various owls eats, “On the Menu,” was interesting and surprising. As a life-long birder, I really valued the identification information, especially tips on what each variety might be mistaken for and how to avoid that. Also as a birder, I loved the section of how to FIND owls in nature with its additional caution of how to also respect and treat them if you do find them or their roosts. Finally, also in the concluding sections, there is information on some of the current and on-going research projects on owls. The back matter includes a glossary and an extensive list of where to find Owls in Captivity by state so that readers can follow Wilson’s advice and become familiar with the appearance of the various owls.

Finally, I am on a mission to find my slides that were taken in the back yard of our first Holland house that sat in an old deeply forested woods. We had nesting Great Horned Owls there and summer after summer, a pair of adults parked their fledged but still dependent owlets on our deck during the day, I’m guessing while they went to hunt. The owlets were almost as big as the adults and absolutely delightful to watch. The squirrels seemed to know how clumsy the owl babies were and teased them by running just out of their reach on the railing underneath them.

Here is my picture of an Eastern Screech Owl but since I am no Mark Wilson, I urge you to find this book and see some REALLY terrific pictures!

The Things She’s Seen: Thriller, Murder Mystery, Ghost Story

Cindy: Fans of We Were Liars are going to want to read The Things She’s Seen (Knopf, 2019), another novel that begs to be read again as soon as you finish. Beth is dead but she hasn’t passed on. Her father is the only one who can see and hear Beth. He is a detective, lost in grief over first losing Beth’s mother a few years earlier, and then Beth. She thinks he needs something to think about so when a new case arises about a mysterious fire at a children’s home, she encourages him to take the case. While they investigate, Beth can observe and overhear things her living father cannot, aiding his detective work. While interviewing a surly teenage witness, Isobel Catching, Beth realizes that Isobel can see her, too. Isobel knows things about the fire and the school’s history but she is not quick to share. She has stories to tell, but is she willing, and are Beth and her father willing to listen carefully? Isobel tells her stories in magical realism verse, poems, and stories based on secrets and hard truths. The Aboriginal brother and sister storytellers weave painful Aboriginal history and racism into this haunting tale, spun from threads of folklore. As the story comes to a close, readers will want to return to the beginning to see how these storytellers wove such an intriguing tale. And, they’ll be begging their friends to read it, too, so they can talk it over. All this in under 200 pages! Yes!

Lynn: As Cindy says, remarkable young writers, Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina, have packed a lot in this slim book! It somehow manages to be thriller, murder mystery, and supernatural ghost story with Palyku traditional tales all in one. Woven in are threads of dealing with grief, finding one’s voice, the powerful strengths of family bonds, the healing nature of storytelling, historical tragedies, and the monsters that lurk in our midst. This is a debut novel and the Kwaymullinas write with a powerful maturity, skillfully blending all these elements into a remarkable whole that is totally absorbing from start to finish. This is a book that is going to stay with me for a long time.

Gather some snacks, settle into your reading chair, take a deep breath, and open to the first page. You won’t want to stop ’til the book is done!

A Book for All Those Square Pegs: Sweety by Andrea Zuill

Cindy: Sweety is an awkward retainer-wearing naked mole rat and I have the biggest soft spot in my heart for her. Andrea Zuill, thank you for creating Sweety (Schwartz & Wade, 2019) with the *best* illustrations to bring Sweety to life! When her friends share their dolls’ names, Sweety’s response (delivered with great enthusiasm), is:

This is Warrior Princess Zorna! Friend fo the friendless, destroyer of evil, lover of chocolate-beet cake with cream cheese frosting! Her favorite color is aubergine* and my mom made her for me!

*Grammarly didn’t know this color. You will be more worldly, or you can look it up!

Sweety sometimes wishes she were more like her friends, or even is jealous (For instance, Deb’s hair, and I do mean singular—ONE hair). Other times, she is content to be herself enjoying her hobby of fungi identification. The illustrations make me giggle and laugh…but always with Sweety, not at Sweety.

It’s Aunt Ruth who helps Sweety to understand that being a “square peg” is not a bad thing. She advises her niece to stay true to herself and promises that one day she’ll find her people. Zuill dedicates the book to “all those who have accepted their inner oddball.” We all know a Sweety or two…and perhaps some of us have our own inner oddball. Here’s to Square Pegs everywhere!

Lynn: I fell hard for Sweety too. The illustrations just crack me up! Don’t miss Sweety’s family album or vignettes of Sweety trying a different hobby. Even a “normal” hobby like knitting gets its own Sweety style.

But as much as I love the illustrations here, I love Andrea Zuill’s message to kids even more. We’ve said the same thing to the Sweety kids seeking refuge in the library over the years! Be true to yourself and hang in there. You will find your people. Happily in this charming book, Sweety doesn’t have to wait too long before she finds a kindred fungi-loving friend. Queue the secret handshake and make sure to share Sweety and her message to kids everywhere!

Cover Trend: School Supplies

Cindy: I love buying office supplies and like many of my students and teachers, I enjoy shopping the back-to-school sales. There’s always the feeling of a fresh start and the illusion of being really productive and organized when you have newly sharpened pencils, some fun markers, and empty notebooks ready and waiting. Even in the digital age of Chromebooks and phone apps, there’s something special about school supplies. Perhaps that’s why I was attracted to this new Swoon Reads YA book, Rules We’re Meant to Break (Feiwel/Swoon, 2019) by Natalie Williamson. I haven’t read it yet but the cover art reminded me of an older favorite middle-grade title, The Meaning of Maggie (Chronicle, 2014) by Megan Jean Sovern. We’re a month into our new school year so if your back-to-school supplies are starting to lose their shine, consider one of these novels to slip into your backpack!