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Sunday, December 10, 2017

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke. First Second, Roaring Brook Press, Macmillan. Raincoast, 2017. $20.99 ages 8 and up

"Are ...
Are you - ?
F-fell out the pipes.
Crawl'd here t' hide.
You - You gotta carry
me back t' th' pipes.
I cain't survive here.
Look I -
want to help you but
my sister, she -

I hold out hope that you read Mighty Jack last year. If you did, you will be charmed to find Jack and Lilly setting out in a brand new adventure to save Jack's sister, Maddy. You will also know that their first adventure ended with a cliffhanger, meant to keep fans longing for the action in this next story.

It begins as they plunge downward into unfamiliar territory. Jack is anxious to move forward, while Lilly advises caution. Jack has no time for that:

"Jack, slow down!"

"Slow down? Lilly, that ogre thing has Maddy!
And it already has a head start on us!"

"I just -
we don't know what's out there.
We should have a plan."

"I have a plan.
I'm going to catch up to that ogre,
smash its head,
and bring my sister home."

Of they go, on an adventure sure to keep readers on the edge of their seats. They climb a not-too-sturdy beanstalk, battle rats, goblins and giants. They launch off in different directions, each dealing with monsters of their own. Clever and courageous in their singular quests, it is finally up to Lilly and her minions to save Jack from his attempt to protect and keep Maddy from harm at the hands of the giants who want to use her as a destructive force.

Kids who know the Jack and the Beanstalk folktale will surely recognize elements in this one, and will very much enjoy the graphic format. The spectacular art is colored by Alex Campbell and Hillary Sycamore in grand style, and with attention to every detail. The action is non-stop, the danger palpable, and the heroics worthy of praise. The final scene is the stuff that keeps eager fans waiting and watching for the next installment. What a sequel! Go find Mighty Jack before you read this one. It will add to your enjoyment, no doubt.

Thankfully, 2018 is just around the corner and we can hope for another installment.

Love those goblins!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

All's Faire in Middle School, by Victoria Jamieson. Dial, Penguin Random House. 2017. $17.99 ages 10 and up

"Once I was in the right wing, I found my locker and opened it with no problem ... on the fifth try. I found my first-period classroom and made it on time. I picked my seat. Not far enough back to be a "bad" kid. Not close enough to the front to be a teacher's pet. I sort of felt like a ghost all morning as I floated from class to class. All the other kids seemed to know each other already."

Middle graders are going to love this new graphic novel from Victoria Jamieson, who won a Newbery Honor for Roller Girl (Dial, 2015). I think I like this one better, and that is saying a lot. I loved Roller Girl.

Imogene and her family perform at an annual Renaissance Faire in Florida. They are immersed in the language, events, and world that surrounds them. Her dad is a knight, her mom runs a gift shop, and Imogene is finally a squire in training. She knows her place in the faire family, and works hard along with the others to make it a worthwhile experience for those who come to be entertained and to learn more about Renaissance life.

Up until now, Imogene has been schooled at home. Her sixth grade year will be her first in a public school. It is scary and disconcerting. Her first weeks play out as one might expect if you know how middle school works. It is a difficult time, to say the least. She makes friends with a mean girl and her crew, until she can't keep up with the shifting trends and they decide she isn't worthy of their attention or friendship. She hurts another girl who might have been a friend. She even treats her younger brother badly. Imogene's reaction to the changes in her life make her miserable and cause tension with those who love her.

"All along I thought I was the knight in the story, doing good and fighting evil. But really, I was the dragon.”

She finds it better to be by herself than with others for a period of time. With needed support from friends and family, Imogene is able to carve a new path for herself. Those interested in graphic novels will find appealing characters, witty conversation and a story that resonates with action-filled scenes. It is a tale that includes wise counsel, friendship, bullying, school, and love of family. The art is wonderful, and will have readers poring over its expressive, often humorous panels.

Watch for it to be on the Newbery list this year! 

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hamster Princess: Giant Trouble, by Ursula Vernon. Dial Books for Young Readers, Penguin. 2017. $17.99 ages 8 and up

"Dear Mom and Dad,
I am sorry I will not be
home for dinner. There
was an inconvenient
beanstalk. It is not too
large, only a mile or so
high. Also, there is a giant.
He is much smaller than
the beanstalk, but wicked.
The beanstalk is not wicked,
so far as I know."

Here's another illustrated novel for younger readers. Perfect for fans of the previous Hamster Princess books. This is the fourth and follows Harriet the Invincible, Of Mice and Magic and Rapunzel. Full of comic adventure and familiar characters, this tale is a retelling of the Jack and the Beanstalk folktale.

As in the original, magic beans are an enticement. The chipmunk seller is long-winded. Mumfrey, Harriet's loyal steed, is short on patience. Eating one of the beans while waiting for the talk to stop results in a severe case of gas which keeps the two from returning to the castle. In the morning they find a towering beanstalk has grown nearby. The soothing tones of a harp entice them upward where they find a castle, and an enslaved harpist who wants to be free to follow her musical dreams. Harriet can relate and considers drumming for Strings, the harpist.

The adventure continues. Freeing Strings is the first order of business, dealing with the Giant, and cliff diving are all part of the rescue operation. As in previous books, there is lots of humor in the encounters. The wordplay is smart and handled skillfully. The zany cartoon-like images add context and interest. Fans are sure to love it, and will encourage their friends to give Harriet and Mumfrey a try. It won't be long before all four books are in constant circulation.

"Oh, bother. I've already tried to sell beans
to you, haven't I?"
"You have!" said Harriet indignantly. "And now
there's a ginormous beanstalk sitting over there
that somebody's going to have to clean up! You
should warn people about those beans!"
"Oh, you got the grows-into-a-giant-beanstalk one ...
Yeah, that one's a problem."
 He waved his remaining two beans
in front of Harriet. "But I've got these others!
Guaranteed magic! Less likely to pose a
threat to air traffic!"

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Fergus and Zeke, written by Kate Messner and illustrated by Heather Ross. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.00 ages 6 and up

"Oh, no! thought Fergus.
He did not want to stay with
the coats.
He wanted to explore.
He wanted to see rocks
and minerals. He wanted to see
dinosaurs and butterflies. He
wanted to wish on a shooting
Fergus watched the students

Young readers love to read books about animal characters that display human characteristics and emotions. Fergus is one terrific class pet. Everyone loves him. He does all that he is asked: keeping his cage clean, listening when others speak, solving class problems, and being a rule follower. So, when the class is preparing for their next field trip, Fergus wants to join them. He thinks it is his right after being such an integral part of all class doings.

Emma is his transport, although she doesn't know it. Once there, Fergus quickly finds another mouse friend to show him around the museum. Zeke is happy to be the docent. What a buddy to have! Without following any 'human' rules, they roam the rooms and hallways of the museum. Wouldn't all children who visit such a place want to have equal access?

The story moves quickly in short chapters meant to keep readers interested. The two mice, as different as day and night, provide humorous dialogue and exciting adventure. Heather Ross matches the story arc perfectly with her spirited digital artwork.

What a surprise is in store when the class settles down after the bus ride back! A new friend for Fergus, a new pet for the classroom ... what could be better than that? This is the first book in a new series - the science fair is next!

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Hooray for Books! Words and pictures by Brian Won. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Raincoast. 2017. $23.99 ages 2 and up

"But Zebra did not have
Turtle's book anymore.
"Why don't you read these
two favorites of mine?"
said Zebra.
"They are about unicorns!"
But Turtle said,
Maybe you shared it
with ... "

When Sicily was here last, we read Hooray for Today (HMH, 2016) every night before bed. It gave us a chance to talk about friends, about bedtime, and just for pure enjoyment and love of familiar characters.

Receiving a copy of this new book brought a smile to my face. The six good friends are back; this time, they are on a mission to help Turtle find his favorite book. After looking high and low at home, he heads out thinking he must have shared it with Zebra. He is so excited, he shouts 'HOORAY FOR BOOKS!' and is off to get it back from his striped friend. No luck. Zebra does not have it. But, as any good friend would, offers two books about unicorns for Turtle to read. Turtle will not be deterred.

Off he goes, hoping that Owl will have it. The same scene plays out in the same way with Owl. Then again with Giraffe. Each time, Turtle is sure he has solved the mystery of the missing book. Each time, he is stymied in his search. With his friends and their growing collection of books to be read following closely behind, Turtle arrives at Elephant's house. Nope! Lion is his last resort .... luckily!!

It's at the bottom of Lion's pile. Tugging it free, Turtle is off to a peaceful place for quiet enjoyment. As he reads, so do his friends. Turtle is drawn back to their circle, now willing to share his book once again.

"Then Turtle heard Elephant say,
"My book is so funny!"
Zebra said, "This book is so sad."
Owl said, "Giraffe, you should read this story!"
Lion added, "I bet Turtle would love this one."

The repetitive nature of the story and the detailed digital artwork are cause for a close look. The endpapers and final vertical spread will delight.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

42 Is Not Just a Number, written by Doreen Rappaport. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 9 and up

"As they talked, Jackie grew vaguely aware that the crowd at the station had not thinned. Black and white people were milling about, trying to get a closer look at him. Then it dawned on him: these people were hanging around to see the man who was taking on the challenge of breaking the color barrier in Major League Baseball. That settled it - he wouldn't quit the team. He couldn't quit the team."

When Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play major league baseball, reactions ran the gamut from outrage to great respect. Racism had raised its ugly head for much of Jackie's life and this turning point did not change that.

Thanks to Doreen Rappaport's careful research, readers are privy to the events that shaped Jackie's character, beginning in 1927, at age eight. She carefully and chronologically shares the events of a life spent in the Army, in the Negro Leagues, and through his rise to fame with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Through it all, Jackie struggled to control his feelings, to show patience and perseverance, and to take the high road with courage and support from others.

There are 21 chapters, each chronicling the years from 1927 until 1997, years after his 1972 death. On April 15, 1997, exactly fifty years after he played his first Major League baseball game, President Bill Clinton told the crowd at a Mets-Dodgers game:

"... Jackie Robinson scored the go-ahead run that day;
we've all been trying to catch up ever since ... If Jackie
Robinson were here today, he would say we have done a lot
of good in the last fifty years,, but we could do a lot better."

We can all say Amen to that! It seems there is still a way to go. Sharing this book in a middle years classroom affords students a chance to think seriously about this courageous athlete who stood strong when others would have given up, who spoke out about injustice when few were willing to do the same, and who led by example by being the best person he could be.  Hopefully, sharing it will encourage some students to want to know even more about Jackie and his career.

Vividly portrayed, the author shows us that Jackie Robinson was a man worthy of our admiration for much more than his baseball career. An author’s note, timeline, extensive source notes, bibliography, and index are included.

If this book piqued interest, be sure to find a copy of Jackie's daughter Sharon's Promises to Keep: How Jackie Robinson Changed America (Scholastic, 2004).

Monday, December 4, 2017

Windows, written by Julia Denos and illustrated by E>B> Goodale. Candlewick Press, Random House. 2017. $21.99 ages 4 and up

"One window might be tall,
with the curtains drawn,

or small,
with a party inside.

Between two windows,
there could be a phone,
used for good ideas."

It is almost sunset. Roofers are finishing up their work, and lights are being turned on against the coming darkness. A young boy and his dog are at their window, looking out. The outdoors is just too enticing for them to remain inside despite the gathering darkness.

It's just before everything in town goes to sleep - the perfect time to journey out together to see the sights. You have been there, haven't you? As he watches, he sees neighbors arriving home for supper, others lowering blinds on lighted windows, and a couple finishing yard work before turning in for the evening and coming night. The shared walk begins, with mom's approval and her glance to ensure everything is fine.

There are so many things to see as the darkness deepens. It might be a cat, a raccoon, a friend, or a neighbor. Look closer at the windows where light is now shining. There is much going on, sure to capture thoughtful attention. Some windows are still dark. The majority have a story to tell. Then, there is the seemingly abandoned one near the end of the walk. What is its story?

The warmth of the child's own windows and a welcoming wave from his mother offer comfort and a cuddle after a most enjoyable evening excursion.

Quietly told, with much to think about as we follow the boy and his companion. Each window holds interest for the reader and the walkers. Ink, watercolor, letterpress and digital collage provide a natural and inviting setting. Shades of blue, yellow and gold take readers from early evening to full night skies. Absolutely charming, and full of wonder. Young readers will have many stories to tell as they share this book. Then, go back and see what they missed the first time.

Makes me want to get outside in search of the super moon set to grace our skies this evening.