Having Emotions Means You Are Human…or Does It?: a Rover Named Resilience – A Rover’s Story by Jasmine Warga

Lynn: rover's storyWhat does it mean to be human? Does it mean the ability to wonder, to hope or to be scared? Does it mean recognizing that you have emotions? Jasmine Warga’s newest book explores that important question and she does it in a way that is intriguing, unusual, and compelling. A Rover’s Story (Scholastic, Oct. 2022) began when Warga’s young daughter asked her to turn on the TV to watch the Mars Rover Launch in November 2022. After watching in fascination together, one of her daughters asked Warga, “Mama, do you think the robot is scared?” And a book was born.

Resilience is a robot intended to travel to Mars, take samples and photographs, send home information, and locate another rover that has gone silent. Readers meet Resilience in a NASA lab where workers, especially scientists Raina and Xander, work long into the night to prepare the little robot for its mission. Short chapters alternate at the beginning between Resilience as something happens to create awareness, Sophie (Raina’s daughter), and Journey, another rover in production. Warga skillfully develops all these fascinating characters, both Homosapien and robot as all of them experience the various emotions that make us all who we are.

Spanning over 17 years, the story follows Resilience and his eventual teammates, Fly, his chatty enthusiastic drone, Guardian, a satellite, and the various humans remaining behind. Adventures, catastrophes, loneliness, hope, courage, and, yes, fear, all play a fascinating part in the explorations, both physical and emotional, in this story. I started the book a bit wary of anthropomorphizing the robot but I blew past that at light-year speed. I fell head-over-wheels in love with all these characters and will think about Resilience for a long long time. This would be a great choice for a classroom read-aloud.

Cindy: “Zappedty, zip,” I don’t blame Warga for getting sucked into the lives of the Mars rovers. I was hooked after reading The Mighty Mars Rovers: The Incredible Adventures of Spirit and Opportunity (Clarion, 2012) by Elizabeth Rusch. Even though it was nonfiction, the rovers came alive in her writing and had me rooting for them as if they were human. The blurb on the advanced reader copy of A Rover’s Story describes it as The One and Only Ivan meets The Wild Robot. Having read and loved both of those stories for a similar age level, I would agree. There is much to be learned about what it means to be human in children’s books, and not just from the human characters. The teamwork between the scientists is equaled by that between Resilience, Fly, and Guardian. Sophie has her own worries, at first jealous of the time her mother gives to the rover, then concerned for the project once she meets Resilience and watches the launch, and then problems that aren’t so easily fixable as reprogramming a robot. This is a story that is sure to prompt some discussion amongst tweens, and it really would be a great read-aloud as Lynn suggests. 

Graphic Novels with Girl Power

Cindy and Lynn: We love graphic novels and we especially love graphic novels with girl power! Here are three new ones that differ widely in location and time but all three discover how to find their skills and rock their worlds.

Enola Holmes: the Graphic Novels: Book One ( Andrews McNeal, 2022) by Serena Blasco.

Enola HolmesWe love the original Enola Holmes books by Nancy Springer! If you haven’t found them or the Netflix series, Enola is the much younger sister of the famous Sherlock and Mycroft Holmes. On her 14th birthday, Enola awakens to discover that her mother, a woman of very eccentric beliefs for her time, has disappeared. When her brothers arrive, they decide they must send Enola away to boarding school to become a proper lady. Enola has very different ideas and runs away to London where she sets shop as a private investigator while also searching for her mother.

Blasco’s graphic novel adaptations of the first three cases is absolutely terrific! These are faithful to the books for those of us who care about that and the illustrations are not only inviting but filled with delicious details that reward careful perusing. The language of flowers which plays a big part in the books is included and well explained and the inclusion of them in messages and codes is wonderfully done. Enola is a spunky, smart heroine, and a dab hand at disguise, detecting and outwitting both her brothers and villains.

Blasco captures the tone of the Springer novels perfectly and we absolutely loved reading these versions. This will be terrific both for fans of the originals and for newcomers to the series. Delightful!!!

Swim Team: Small Waves, Big Changes. (Harper Alley, 2022) by Johnnie Christmas.

Swim Team by Johnnie ChristmasWith four starred reviews, you may have already heard about this sports-themed graphic novel, but if not, you’ll need to get on your starting block and race to get a copy. Bree is starting middle school in a new state and is dismayed to learn that swimming is a big deal at her new Florida school. When the only elective that fits her schedule is not Math Games as she’d hoped, but Swim 101, she’s unnerved. Bree never learned to swim.  A neighbor at her apartment, who is an alumnus of Bree’s school and its swim team, jumps in the deep end to help Bree not only learn to swim but to be good enough to be tapped for the struggling swim team. 

Bree’s public school lacks the resources of the local private school that usually wins most of the medals and the meets, but the girls and their coach have other resources under their swim caps and the race is on.

Middle school friendships and fights and rude rivals threaten to sink some of the progress of the team until the girls learn to work together. Additional subplots with the coaches and the history of segregated swimming pools and the lack of swimming instruction and access to pools for blacks are woven into the important story. Readers will cheer for Bree as she overcomes her fears and they will learn from her perseverance and commitment as she excels in her sport. 

Squire (HarperCollins/Quill Tree, 2022) by Sara Alfageeh.

SquireAiza dreams of becoming a Squire and then a Knight in the powerful Bayt-Sajii army that controls a vast area. Aiza is poor and of a despised minority, the Ornu, and the army is her only route to citizenship. Aiza conceals her cultural tattoos with wrappings and, with the help of a motley array of allies and enemies survives the intense training, reaching her goal of becoming a Squire. But along the way, Aiza begins to understand the true nature of the country she serves and begins to question where her loyalty and her heart lie.

Set in an alternative Middle East, the illustrations are bold and gorgeously inked. Each expression is wonderfully detailed, providing a depth of understanding of each character. A sweeping tale of understanding the nature of power and true loyalty.

Cress Watercress: A Perfect Read-Aloud–Make Note!

Lynn: I Cress watercressam a skeptical audience for animal fantasies. Some I love and some I dislike intensely. I may be the only person on the planet to loathe Watership Down but I adored the Brian Jacques books. I also am a fan of Gregory Maguire’s adult fantasies and was unsure how his sharp clever style would translate into a middle-grade book. After a bit of a slow start in his new book, Cress Watercress (Candlewick, 2022), Maguire settles into a masterful style and pace that brings something new to the genre and is perfectly attuned to the young audience.

Cress Watercress and her hardworking mother and baby brother must leave their home for new quarters after her Papa fails to come home from a honey-gathering trip. The Broken Arms apartment is small and crowded and Cress grieves her father and misses her home and friends. Her contrary feelings are exacerbated by a leap into adolescence and her mood is as if she “ate thorns for breakfast.” Real dangers, a very sick little brother, and a mix of new friends— both good and bad—add to Cress’s struggles and her path forward is skillfully woven into the adventure. Cress yearns to solve the mystery of her father’s disappearance and as she learns to handle her grief, she also begins to discover what home and family are. She also learns a lot about her own strength. Never saccharine, this rabbit’s tale is beautifully told.

The book is illuminated by David Litchfield’s glowing digital illustrations that make the book a visual treat. The book production by this Candlewick team is absolutely outstanding!!

This is a perfect choice for a bedtime or a classroom read-aloud!! Make note!

Cindy: There are at least two people who aren’t fans of Watership Down. You’re not alone, Lynn. What I am a fan of is intelligent stories that are as fun for the adult reading them aloud as for the child listening to them. This one has great characters, like a skunk named Lady Agatha Cabbage dressed for the opera peering through a lorgnette and uttering phrases like “Oh, my pearls and pistols.” Independent readers ready for interesting vocabulary and humor will enjoy reading this story, too. For instance, when Cress and Finny are headed over a waterfall on their raft, Cress hangs on by “strength of will and overbite.” Many unexpected little gems had me chuckling aloud. At other times, as when Cress’s mother uses the waxing and waning of the moon as an analogy for grief that comes and goes but is always there, the storytelling left me brushing away some tears.

Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award 2022 Winners Announced!

Lynn: Drumroll please! The winners of the Lee Bennett Hopkins Poetry Award for 2022 have been announced! Administered by The Pennsylvania Center for the Book, the award is named in honor of Lee Bennett Hopkins, an internationally renowned poet, educator, and anthologist. The award is presented annually to an American poet or anthologist for the most outstanding book of poetry published for children in the previous calendar year. The award is sponsored by Pennsylvania State University Libraries and the Lee Bennett Hopkins Trust.

It has been my honor to serve as the chairman of the award jury this year. The jury was a joy to work with as we read and pondered the many outstanding poetry books for children published this year. This year we have a winner and an honor book.

born on the waterOur Winners are Nikole Hannah-Jones and Renee Watson for their stellar picture book, The 1619 Project: Born on the Water published by Penguin Random/Kokila and illustrated by Nikkolas Smith. “Stymied by her unfinished family tree assignment for school, a young girl seeks Grandma’s counsel and learns about her ancestors, the consequences of slavery, and the history of Black resistance in the United States.”

Our One thing you'd saveHonor winner is Linda Sue Park for her verse novel, The One Thing You’d Save published by Clarion Books and illustrated by Robert Sae-Heng. “When a teacher asks her class what one thing they would save in an emergency, some students know the answer right away. Others come to their decisions more slowly. And some change their minds when they hear their classmates’ responses.” Park uses a Korean poetic form, sijo in this inviting story.

Be sure to look for these outstanding books and continue to enjoy poetry!

Geography Nerds Rejoice!

Lynn: Weprisoners of geography have a treat for all the map-loving kids you know! Each of the books we’re highlighting today bring a fascinating new look at maps, the impact of the often arbitrary lines drawn to created country boundaries and so much more.

The first is Prisoners of Geography: Our World Explained in 12 Simple Maps (The Experiment, 2021) by Tim Marshall. The book is a Young Reader’s adaptation of Marshall’s best-selling adult book. Marshall, a globe-trotting reporter for many years, takes a fascinating approach to providing an introduction to the geopolitics of our world. He touches on history, physical geography, resources of the region, trade, politics, and their impact today. The maps are engagingly drawn and packed with information presented in a way to interest kids and draw them into exploring more. It is a book to read a few pages at a time in order to linger over the wealth of information on each map. Choices had to be made for an adaptation so not all countries are included but those chosen are of definite current interest. As a life-long map nerd myself, this is a book that would have enthralled me as a kid and still does today. Don’t miss it!

Africa Amazing Africa by AtinukeCindy: We have raved here in the past about Atinuke’s beginner reader books featuring Anna Hibiscus, a young girl from Africa, amazing Africa, but this book was completely off the map for me in 2020 and we want to make sure you don’t miss it as well. Africa, Amazing, Africa: Country by Country (Candlewick, 2020) by Atinuke is just that, a look at Africa, country by country. After a few pages of introduction and a full colorful continent map, the book is arranged by region with a regional map accented with images of foods, animals, and other features, a short text introduction to the area as a whole, and the word “Welcome” in each of the languages spoken in that region. Each country in the region is then presented in alphabetical order with a page that includes illustrations, information that varies depending on the country, and highlighted facts of interest. Throughout, Atinuke shares the traditions and history, but also is sure to highlight the large cities, technology, and contemporary features of Africa and its people today. Did you know that some nomads of Eritrea now “use GPS and cell phone apps to check where the rain and the grass are?” A must purchase for all libraries and a great addition to elementary classroom resources.

Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs

Solimar by Pam Munoz RyanCindy: When the package with Pam Muñoz Ryan’s new book arrived, it took my breath away. Inside the packing box was a huge monarch butterfly, its wings closed over an advance reader copy of Solimar: The Sword of the Monarchs (Disney/Hyperion, Feb 2022), and a butterfly-shaped pack of seeds to grow wildflowers to help our pollinator friends. And, now that the 2021 publishing year awards are mostly behind us, I’m ready to spread my wings and fly into 2022 books. 

Solimar is a wonderful new Mexican hero to inspire budding environmentalists. When, just before her quinceañera she makes her annual trek to the oyamel forest to welcome the returning monarch butterflies, something magical happens. The sun, a sword-shaped crevice in a rock, and a swirl of butterflies changes her rebozo (a shawl) into a shimmering cloth that she later learns provides her with knowledge of the near future. It also hosts butterflies that need her care and protection.

Chafing at the constraints that keep her from a future she wants with a say in how her kingdom works while providing her brother the opportunity as Prince to one day rule the kingdom, a job he doesn’t want she isn’t excited about her upcoming party.  She definitely isn’t looking forward to trading in her childhood comfortable hiking boots for heeled, impractical dancing shoes. A takeover of the kingdom in her brother and father’s absence, in which her mother, abuela, and others are taken hostage while Solimar manages to escape, is just the beginning of the adventure ahead of her as she finds her courage and risks all to save her kingdom. 

The characters in this story that include a pet quetzel bird and a talking doll, in addition to an inventor river boy from a troubled neighboring village, are engaging. Young readers will hope from more of them and more adventures for Solimar, I know I do. They’ll also be glad to have a fantastical story that weighs in at under 200 pages.

I read “The State of YA in 2022” from WriterMag yesterday and #4 on the ten biggest trends in YA Lit is that “Climate-change novels may be the next big thing.” I hope so. The stakes are larger than those needed to kill a vampire, and we can’t start too young with raising awareness. Habitat preservation and saving the butterflies isn’t the only issue in this novel, but it is a driving force for Solimar. With a foot of snow on our ground in Michigan, I have a few months before I can plant those seeds that came with my book, but I’ll be ready to do so as soon as I can. FYI, the cover art changed dramatically from arc to finished book, and the butterfly box? A four-year-old and her twin two-year-old sisters are learning to be heroes as they flit around with it. They’ll be helping me plant the seeds soon.

Shape Shifters and Dragons for Middle Grade Readers

Cindy and Lynn: Sometimes with science fiction or fantasy, you just have to accept the concept and go with the flow of a fun or intriguing story that may be more out-of-this-world than you might even expect from these genres. We each recently read one of these.

Lynn: Trouble in the Stars by Sarah PrineasSarah Prineas’ new book, Trouble in the Stars (Penguin/Philomel, 2021) avoids the pitfalls that often beset middle grade SF by not dwelling on the mechanics of the world building. Instead she simply establishes the setting as a multi-world universe with interstellar travel as a given. But a major premise of the book, that the young protagonist is a shape-shifter created in a laboratory, is something readers need to accept as possible. That isn’t hard to do since the fast-paced plot ramps up right from the start. Readers are introduced to Trouble, floating in space as a sort of amorphous cloud of goo, realizes something dangerous is searching for him. In short order he squeezes into a space station, transforms into the form of an adorable puppy, and stows away on a battered ship heading out into space. When the puppy is discovered and “spaced,” Trouble shape shifts into a 10-year old human boy, wins a 3-week reprieve till the next destination, and is set to work as a cabin boy. The Hindsight has a wonderfully engaging alien crew and it is clear that they are not being completely open about what their mission actually is. Just as Trouble starts to win over the crew, they spot the StarLeague ship that is tracking them!

 This terrific story is a character driven tale of family, identity, and finding a home. The characters are all well drawn, intriguing. and decidedly distinct individuals. Trouble himself is instantly appealing and relatable— quite a feat for a clump of goo 😉 There’s plenty of humor as Prineas manages a conventional trope of “alien-figuring-out-human-behavior” in a way that young readers will greatly enjoy. The plot has plenty of suspense and just enough danger to keep reader’s interest high. This would make an ideal read aloud for a classroom, Chapters end with just enough suspense to make listeners beg for more and the story is packed with themes that would make great discussion topics. I’m hoping there will be more adventures for Trouble and the Hindsight

Cindy: Despite the opening pitch, my offering is less fantasy, really, and more a blend of historical fiction, adventure, survival, and environmental tale with the threatened species being…dragons! A Discovery of Dragons (Scholastic, July, 1, 2021) is a debut novel by science teacher, Lindsay Galvin. Young Discovery of Dragons by Lindsay GalvinSimon Covington is an assistant to Charles Darwin on the USS Beagle, playing fiddle and labeling specimens on the scientist’s famous voyage to the Gallapagos Islands. When he is lost at sea after helping to rescue Darwin, he winds up on an unexplored island with an active volcano. He soon learns that the volcano is not the only thing breathing fire on the island. With the help of his fiddle (from which Simon hears advice and sarcasm) and a lizard he names Farthing, Simon manages rescue and returns to London. There he continues to help Darwin with his specimens but also to deal with his own—a set of eggs he rescued and that are now starting to hatch! Simon’s character is based on a real boy of the same name who aided Darwin on this voyage and details of Darwin’s life and work are woven into the story, but it remains an adventure focused on what may be the last dragon eggs in the world. Might Darwin have found dragons in addition to finches and tortoises if he’d looked in the right place? We may never know. I was willing to let the story unfold as a possibility. Young fans of dragon stories and young naturalists are going to enjoy this science-based adventure. Maybe it’s not fantasy at all….if the dragons are/were real? Hmmmmm….

Just Like That: Schmidt Does It Again

Lynn: Gary Schmidt has done it again. His new book Just Like That (Clarion, 2021) is another gem of a middle-grade novel. He makes a startling Just Like That by Gary D Schmidtmove with an event that takes place just prior to the book’s opening. A reader-favorite character, Holling Hoodhood, dies, leaving his best friend grappling with the grief and despair she terms “the Blank.” Unable to face returning to their shared junior high school in the fall, Meryl Lee is sent by her parents to an elite private boarding school in Maine, St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls. Placed in a room with 3 hostile girls from wealthy privileged families, Meryl Lee feels even more alone and adrift.

In a concurrent and very Dickensian story line, young Matthew Coffin has also landed in the area. On the run from a Fagin-type character and in possession of a cache of money stolen from him, Matt is also adrift in loneliness, guilt and grief. He works the fishing boats, avoids authorities, and fights to stay unnoticed. But Dr. Nora MacKnockater, head of St. Elene’s, sees both teens, their qualities and their struggles. Both story lines intersect as Meryl Lee takes on pearl-wearing roommates, class discrimination, Shakespearean sonnets, dissection, and field hockey. A catalyst for change, Meryl Lee alters the lives and paths of everyone around her—including her own. Heartfelt, insightful, very funny, and deeply moving, this memorable story is Schmidt at the top of his game. Stellar in every way, this book is a gift to readers of all ages.

Cindy: I started reading this in print but then had to be on the road so I bought the audio version and what a treat it was to hear this story read aloud. The 1968 Vietnam War era is well-infused into this story, sometimes in grief-stricken ways, and others more light-hearted, like the ill-fated luncheon when Vice President Spiro Agnew visits the school. Meryl Lee has a bit of Anne Shirley in her, she means well, but unfortunate things just happen sometimes. Dr. MacKnockater is the kind of teacher every kid needs at some time in their journey and both Meryl Lee and Matthew benefit from her wise counsel that also encourages them to figure out what they need to for themselves. Gentle nudges and loving support. Growing up is hard enough, growing up while grieving is even harder. Like last year’s fabulous Pay Attention, Carter Jones that we posted about, the grief is palpable and informed by Schmidt’s own journey, but his humor scenes show that life continues between the blanks. Obviously this is for fans of Schmidt’s connected novels, The Wednesday Wars and Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy, but Kate DiCamillo fans will embrace these vivid characters and their story too. 

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Pura Belpre Honor – An “Army Kid” and the Vieja

Lynn: Nestor’s dad is deployed to Afghanistan and Nestor and his mom have moved AGAIN. This time they’ve moved in with Nestor’s abuela instead of to another army base. Nestor loves his abuela (and she is a great cook!) but this is the 10th time he’s been the new kid in school. How long before he has to move again? In The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez (Farrar, 2020), debut author Adrianna Cuevas explores the worries and struggles of kids with an active-duty military parent but also spices her story with a nail-biting supernatural adventure.

Nestor misses his dad deeply and worries about him, writing him letters that he keeps bright and positive but he also resists getting too comfortable in this new school, knowing he will have to move again. But this time might be different. Nestor quickly makes some friends and just as quickly gets drawn into a scary situation. Animals in town are disappearing, there is something terrifying in the woods and the townspeople are suspecting Nestor’s abuela of being a witch. Nestor and his friends set out to rescue the animals and solve the mystery. And, oh yes, Nestor has a secret gift – he can talk to animals and that just might be the key to everything.

Fast-paced and quickly immersive, this is a real treat to read. Well developed characters and an intriguing plot will keep kids racing through the pages. Nestor’s voice is immediate and authentic. South American folklore adds a terrific element to the tale. Readers from military families will appreciate Nestor’s struggles as will kids from so many families across the US who change schools often. A great addition to library collections, this will make a great book talk! Congratulations to Adrianna Cuevas for winning a Pura Belpré Author Honor Award!