The Children’s and YA Bloggers’ Literary Awards, the only book awards of any sort from the blogging community. Mission to award books that are not only written well, but books that kids will actually WANT to read.
The Cybils Board is pleased to announce that the Cybils will be the parent organization for KidlitCon, the conference celebrating children’s literature and blogging. The move makes sense, especially since Cybils has become a 501(c)(3) corporation, and can provide more stability for KidlitCon going forward. There is also overlap between the organizers and participants of both the Cybils and the conference, and we think it will help both organizations to grow in the future.
Nothing about how either the Cybils or the conference is run will change.
The 2020 KidlitCon will be held in Ann Arbor, Michigan on March 27-28. More information, including registration and a call for presentations, will be forthcoming.
There are so many World War II stories out there. What drew you to Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life, and why did you choose to tell his story?
His story has been known to me for a long time. In my early 20’s I had read Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s theology in college, and knew of his journey, so I have always wanted to share this story, but working primarily as a picture book artist and writer, I couldn’t get the massive story to fit in that format… so I went with a longer middle grade prose/graphic novel hybrid. Seemed the right fit for the story. There are so many stories from WW2, what I liked about Bonhoeffer was the collision of ethics and action, faith and the world. Being a Christian myself, I think he asks some pretty relevant questions about where faith and action intersect in a broken world.
One of the reasons our panel really loved The Faithful Spy was because of it’s unique format. Can you talk a bit about why you made the choices you did (hand-lettering text or the three color palette) for this story?
Thanks! Yes, these choices were a bit of a risk, but they were worth it to me because it really fit both my natural sense as a designer and the story. The design choices in the book were totally critical to the storytelling…. the color scheme was intentional to help tell the story in a visual form. I chose the red and teal to help show each of the stories in a clear visual signature, Hitler in red and Bonhoeffer in the teal. The colors are unsettling together, they create a kind of visual vibration, and as the two stories overlap, of Hitler and Dietrich, the colors overlap too, reinforcing the colliding content. The text is my handwriting, but the book is not handlettered (at least the body copy) I hired a designer/illustrator named John Martz to convert my handwriting to a typeface with 4 alternate glyphs per character that swap out at random to create a hand-drawn look. But the typeface offers some more consistency and makes translations to other languages easier too.
You’re an illustrator as well as an author. How does your art effect your writing and vice versa?
Well, no matter what I do, it always takes longer than I expect! For “The Faithful Spy”, I though that the writing would be much faster than the art making (I was used to the art taking so long, I thought that the writing would be much faster in contrast). I was very wrong in that department. Each process is time-consuming and requires tons of revisions. Looking back, that seems like a very obvious conclusion.. but yes, the process was long and full of changes. Writing books that you illustrate is a kind of tug of war between two narrative languages and I find that my goals shift back and forth as I’m writing and drawing. Many times, since I have the luxury, I will go back to my text and edit it to compliment the pictures in a richer way. Many times, that is actually removing, rather than adding. You always want to err on the side of letting the viewer complete the narrative in their mind, rather than turning the text into ‘captions’ for the illustration.
In the notes at the back of the book you talk about omissions (we found that hard to believe!). Is there a particular scene or event in Bonhoeffer’s life that you left out that you would love to have included?
So many to have included, one I mention in the end matter was the fact that Bonhoeffer was in correspondence with Ghandi, and nearly went to India to study with him, but felt his work in the Confessing Church was much more important. One of those little overlaps of history that is very noteworthy and sad to leave out. I also did not put much in about Russia and their part in WW2, which was critical to an allied victory, and yet I just didn’t have the narrative space for it.
If you don’t mind telling us, what’s next for you?
I’m hoping to revisit the longer middle grade format soon, but the project on my desk right now is a classic picture book. I am writing and illustrating a follow up to my 2016 book “Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus”. This book is a collections of some of Jesus’ parables and teachings, for young readers. Tentatively titled “Go and Do Likewise!,” it is scheduled to be out early 2020 from Abrams Books for Young Readers. I also have an illustrated collaboration with actor/writer Thomas Lennon, called “Ronan Boyle and the Bridge of Riddles” which came out in March 2019, and I’m working on the second book of that trilogy now. The series are middle grade chapter books about a magical police force in Ireland, and let me tell you, they are hilarious.
What inspired you to create this series of books for the youngest readers?
In 2010, I published in Europe a big book called Mon Hippopotame; Abrams books wanted to publish it in a smaller size and called it Hippoposites…They were so excited that I suggested we meet in Bologna in 2013 to imagine a book I could do exclusively for Abrams; I created Cyrus the blue rhino and Abrams wanted something very closed to Hippoposites, that’s how this series was born… I was so satisfied of the quality of these books that Llamaphones came naturally.
How did you come upon using llamas for Homophones? (We wouldn’t have readily made that connection!)
Either would I !!!! I think the Llama was Abrams’ idea in that case. I thought: “Nice !!! it’s a very funny and endearing animal.” I don’t regret it!!!!!!
Your books are really quite funny; we don’t often see such sly humor in board books. Did you get any push-back from your publisher about including humor in a book for your target readers?
It is the best compliment I can get!!!
The day I have no more humorous ideas I will stop making books!
However, the collaboration with my publisher was valuable and impactful. We learn more when we have fun!
What’s the most memorable interaction you’ve had reading this book to a child?
Llamaphones is not published in Europe so I haven’t made workshops about these book yet; but I have had beautiful exchanges with a class of students in north east US and they helped me to imagine my next book that could be Pandagraphs… ?? They’d like me to visit them… one day maybe… I often travel to meet different audiences.
If you don’t mind telling us, what’s next for you?
Pandagraphs? ha ha! a fourth one maybe… ???
But I created a new character and I would like him to be published by Abrams, something different from the series…
In Paris, I’m working on a book for 0-100 years old on the theme of LOVE… and many other projects in Europe and elsewhere…
You have a PhD in biology, correct? How did you end up writing a children’s picture book biography?
PV: My PhD is in Molecular and Cell Biology with a focus on Immunology. My day job is at the National Institutes of Health. When my children were younger I would tell them stories about the tiny armies in their bodies that fight off germs. I started to write these stories down and I suppose that was the beginning of my writing journey. I absolutely love picture books, and as I was reading with my children, I realized there were hardly any stories about women scientists beyond Marie Curie and Jane Goodall. Don’t get me wrong, these women are great, but there are so many other women whose stories need to be told.
In school, you studied philosophy, correct? How did you end up illustrating a children’s picture book biography?
FS: It was a very long and unexpected road, which I suppose is what life is like generally. I discovered the world of picture book illustration while I was travelling back to Italy after I graduated from university. I taught english for many years before I started to get offers for picture books and could gradually become a full time illustrator. I used my blog and the internet generally to show my work to the world, I painted and drew any chance I could, in between lessons, and worked on small commissions for magazines. Gradually a publisher noticed me, and then another, and now I no longer teach english. But I still do very much love philosophy. My first biographical book was about Mother Jones, with Canadian Publisher Kids Can Press. I suppose once you do something of the kind you get noticed for it, so I was asked to do quite a few biographies after that. But Joan is probably my favourite!
What drew you to the story of Joan Procter and why did you decide to write it as a biography for children?
PV: You never know where or when inspiration will strike. In this case, it all started with a Komodo dragon name Murphy. My family and I love to visit him at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. Wanting to learn more about these huge lizards, I looked up some articles. At the very end of one of the articles was a single sentence about Joan Procter being the first person to describe Komodo dragons in captivity in the 1920’s. I simply had to know more about this woman! I think children relate to Joan’s story in many ways, from her immense curiosity and empathy for reptiles to her unique point of view that many at that time found quite unusual.
FS: When I read about Joan I was immediately attracted to her love of reptiles. I was quite drawn to lizards and as a girl (there’s some really big ones in Australia where I grew up!). When I saw a photo of Joan I thought she had great style. Such an elegant lady strolling around the London zoo with a Komodo dragon and a pearl necklace, I thought it was a wonderful contrast to illustrate. I loved illustrating her world, 1920s london. It was hard to draw lizards and snakes, I’d never done it before! But it was fun to learn something new, they’re actually quite beautiful creatures.
What kind of research did you do for this book?
PV: It turns out that Joan Procter was somewhat of a celebrity of her time. Newspapers loved running stories of the “girl” running a reptile house full of dangerous animals. Joan Procter was also a serious scientists and she wrote several papers describing new species. She introduced new technology in the reptile house that improved the animals’ health. In addition to newspaper articles and Joan’s own scientific publications, I was able to find letters, photos, paintings, and articles left by her sister at Girton College in Cambridge University.
FS: I found lots of reference photos of Joan, with the publisher’s help. Also of the fashion of the times, of London, of the natural history museum, and then mainly of reptiles. I had a huge Pinterest board full of snakes and lizards and dragons, and was constantly on the lookout for books about them.
What was the most rewarding part of the publishing process of this book for you?
PV: The most rewarding part of publishing Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor is seeing the reaction from children. They have so many questions about Komodo dragons and Joan’s relationship with Sumbawa, the dragon that accompanied her on walks through the London Zoo. I love introducing a strong female role model to students.
FS: It was the amazing response from the public, and especially schools, to Joan Procter’s story. It was great to see how many people took great interest in this relatively unknown figure, and I’m proud of helping her story come to life.
If you don’t mind telling us what’s next for you?
PV: It hasn’t been officially announced yet, but I can let you know that my next book is about a Latina scientist. I’m also working on some science-themed middle grade. More to come!
FS: I’m working on a really funny story about a cockroach, one about a lost toy horse set in outback Australia, and one about Trees, all written by some great women writers. I hope to find time to write my own books to one day!
What was your inspiration for this book, both Tess in particular and the world her story is set in?
My very first inspiration was an article I read lamenting the lack of female road-trip stories. I was feeling burned out after writing Shadow Scale, and a road trip sounded like an easy, merry jaunt. A title came to me, Tess in Boots, which made me laugh (and if it makes me laugh, it wins). I hadn’t thought much about Tess, one of Seraphina’s human half-sisters who appeared briefly in a very minor scene in my first book, and of course, the more I got to know her, the more this traumatic, complicated backstory began to reveal itself. The world, of course, had already been largely built in Seraphina and Shadow Scale; Tess’s story, as she walked through the world in less-elevated circles than her sister had frequented, gave me a wonderful opportunity to explore everything I’d already created from a different angle.
There has been plenty written on building a fantasy world, but the world of Tess of the Road is so BIG! Multiple countries with different political structures and customs, characters who the reader believes will walk on for a couple scenes, then never be heard from again but who are vital to later events, three different species other than humans, their language and grammar, I could go on. What kind of pre-writing work does it take to create a world this big? How much of it is research? How much is imagination? How do the research and imagination come together?
I have an advantage not many fantasy writers have, which is that this world has been with me since I was twelve years old. I wrote a narrative poem for English class called “The First Adventure of Sir Amy.” The poem was set in a land called Goredd, to rhyme with Fred, which was the name of Sir Amy’s horse. It was kind of a shallow, silly, fairy-tale-derived world, but it was mine — the first inkling I’d had that I could create a whole world on my own. Throughout high school, I would set stories in Goredd, and when I was in my 20s I worked on a comic book called Amy Unbounded that was set in the same semi-medieval realm (meaning I actually have visual references of my own imaginary world, which is kind of awesome).
This is all to say, the pre-writing and research have been going on for thirty-four years! That said, my imaginary world is still not entirely built. Just like we can’t understand everything about our own world, I think it’s not really possible to understand everything about a fantasy world. I have learned to love those gaps in my knowledge, in fact, and one of my greatest joys is “discovering” something new about the world that I didn’t know before. That way the world keeps evolving, and it doesn’t grow stale or static in my mind.
Did you know when you wrote Seraphina that you’d write further books in this world? How much of the world building was created for the first series and how much was added for Tess of the Road?
Because this world has been with me for so long, I always assumed I’d set most of my stories there, like Terry Pratchett did with his Discworld novels. It’s such a big world that I could set almost any kind of story somewhere in it (except space opera, I like to joke, but even that… let’s just say I don’t like dismissing anything as impossible). While writing Tess, I learned a lot of new things about the world. The quigutl, in particular became much more fleshed out — that they bite each other to relieve stress; that they change sex several times over the course of their lifespans; that their language isn’t just “Mootya with a lisp” as Seraphina had previously characterized it. The World Serpents were entirely new. I had a lot of backstory for her parents already (thanks to an early draft of Seraphina that never saw the light of day), but there were new things to learn there, too, especially about the role of religion for some Goreddis.
From the end of the story, it sounded like there will be a sequel as Tess joins the expedition to find the Antarctic serpent. Will there be a sequel? When??
I am working on it right now! It is tentatively called Tess of the Sea. In fact, I was slow getting these questions answered because I’ve been caught up in finishing a draft. Not the final draft, alas — my editor and I are a pair of perfectly matched perfectionists, so we’re probably going to throw it back and forth a couple more times. However, I’m feeling really good about it, and believe it will be worth the wait.
How does your family feel about their portrayal in the book?
As I was writing HEY, KIDDO, I had my family read early drafts to ensure that my memories were in line with their understanding of how events unfolded. So, nobody was surprised on publication day.
Have you come to understand how your mother ended up an addict?
My mother chose drugs just once, after that, the choice was made for her as she plunged into addiction. It was a battle she fought until the very end. She herself had trauma when she was a child, as did my grandmother. It was a vicious cycle.
What part of your story was hardest to share?
There were several parts that were difficult to put down on paper, I wouldn’t be able to identify just one.
What do you hope readers take away from your story?
For readers that are living with trauma, I hope that they might be able to see a light at the end of the tunnel. And for readers who have am ore idyllic home life, I hope that my book might elicit empathy for their peers.
If you don’t mind us asking, what’s next for you?
More stories that are told with words and pictures—for readers of all ages!
Debbi, can you tell us a little about how you came up with Jasmine Toguchi and her stories? How did you develop Jasmine as a character? Why did you choose to focus on taiko drumming?
DMF: I first came up with Jasmine after I read an article about a multi-generational Japanese American family that got together every year at New Years to make mochi the traditional way – by steaming sweet rice, pounding the rice into a gooey mass in a giant bowl with a big hammer, and rolling the mochi into shapes. I knew that in Japan, traditionally, there was a man’s job (pounding mochi) and a woman’s job (rolling the mochi). I wondered what would happen if a little girl wanted to pound mochi. That’s how I got the idea for the first book, Mochi Queen. Jasmine pretty much kept talking in my head until I wrote her story down – that’s her personality! She’s determined and speaks her mind! She is more like my daughter was at that age than I was. I think because I didn’t speak up much as a child, I wanted to create a character who did. Once my editor, Grace Kendall at FSG, made an offer on Jasmine Toguchi Mochi Queen and asked for three more books to make a series, she helped me hone and polish Jasmine. It wasn’t until I worked with Grace that I came up with Jasmine’s catch phrases “Wowee zowee,” and “Walnuts!” And Jasmine didn’t have a favorite animal (flamingos) until Grace asked about it.
Funny thing about Drummer Girl, I have always wanted to play the taiko drums. I loved watching taiko groups perform. It looked fun and powerful! But I never had the opportunity to play. I purposely chose taiko drumming as something Jasmine wanted to learn because that meant for research I had to take a lesson! I found a teacher 2 hours away and took a lesson from a member of Odaiko New England. I asked her to teach me as if I were 8 years old (Jasmine’s age). The routine I learned was the same one Jasmine plays in the book. I loved playing the taiko drum! I only wish I could find a teacher/group closer to me so I could continue to take lessons.
Elizabet, you’ve illustrated picture books as well as chapter books. Is one easier than the other? What approach did you take to drawing Jasmine?
EV: In the beginning stages (when developing characters and their environments) both are a bit tricky. But you get more information in chapter books that it becomes easier to come up with characters. Plus the final illustrations are black and white, so less indecisiveness about colors. That said, it makes creating the cover even more fun because you can go all crazy with colors.
I think most illustrators will draw parts of themselves in their characters I don’t think you can totally avoid it. That’s why I think after reading the manuscript I fell in love with Jasmine she seemed so much like myself, growing up with 2 cultures, being the youngest sibling, her strong mentality and so much more. So I really felt like I knew this girl.
Besides her personality that came natural, there were some practical things I considered: Like for her dressing, her activities (climbing tree), climate/weather (California) and the things she loves (flamingos) to incorporate into the clothing (sometimes pattern, sleeves like wings). So you’ll see Jasmine in her shorts/legging sometimes with a band-aid. Same for her hair as an active child I gave her a ponytail felt more comfortable and practical for her adventures. The editor & art director helped out too with things like her height opposed to her sister. For me I wanted to make Jasmine look cool in her own way (not too girly), bit tough, not always sure of herself, bit silly and sweet.
Do both of you work together on the book? Or does Debbi write and then Elizabet illustrate afterward? If it’s the former, what’s the process like? If it’s the latter, does Debbi give feedback on the illustrations, or do you have free reign?
EV: It’s the latter: Debbi wrote and I got the manuscript (which might have been revised a bit afterward). With the first book in the series I got some feedback on characters from Debbi via the editor and reference images for ideas of Jasmine’s family and objects (used in Japanese culture). But mostly there was a lot of free reign for the characters.
DMF: Like Elizabet said, I wrote the stories and Elizabet worked on the illustrations after. I was grateful to be able to see the initial sketches. The first time I saw Elizabet’s drawing of Jasmine, I cried tears of joy. It was like seeing your baby for the first time! Elizabet had captured Jasmine and her personality perfectly! I am so very grateful to Elizabet for her wonderful illustrations for the entire series. I only have one small complaint though – that Jasmine has a better wardrobe than I do!
We love Jasmine’s spunk! Was there anything from when you were a kid that inspired Jasmine?
DMF: Thanks! Like I said, I wasn’t too much like Jasmine at her age. I tended to avoid conflict and I didn’t really speak my mind around adults. I celebrated Girl’s Day with my family almost exactly like Jasmine does in Super Sleuth. I did get to climb my neighbor’s apricot tree whenever I wanted and I did have a close-knit group of childhood friends. However, unlike Jasmine, I was the older sister, and I admit I was kind of like Sophie. Apologies to my younger sister, Gail!
EV: As a kid I was reserved at school but at home all the crazy came out I was an entertainer/joker for my family but also wanting to compete with my older siblings (especially brother). I wanted to show my parents girls can be stronger and smarter.
If you don’t mind telling us, what’s next for you?
EV: Recently a picture book I illustrated released called “Be a Maker” by Katey Howes (Carolrhoda/Lerner Books) That was both challenging and fun to illustrate, including many strong women! Currently I’m working on a picture book “An Ordinary Day” by Elana K. Arnold (Beach Lane Books). and a Ready-to-Read biography about Ruth Bader Ginsburg (SimonSpotlight).
DMF: I have an early chapter book series coming out with Capstone this August called My Furry Foster Family, about a girl who fosters pets with her family. There are four books in the series. I loved writing these books because I love animals – I have a degree in zoology and had a lot of pets growing up. Today we have a rescue dog, bunny, and two ducks at home.
Thank you so much for your time!
DMF: Thank you so much for the honor and for reaching out!
We love the name of your website: Wonders of the Weird. How long have you been interested in the “weird” things in nature?
My mother used to call me her “little alien,” because I was so “different.” I loved being outside and exploring every inch of my natural world. Things weird but wonderful were always on the top of my list. In creating my website and my writer’s platform, I stayed close to home. I write the books I would have loved as a kid.
What drew you to write a book about the “gross” side of science, focusing on the scavengers in the animal world?
I was watching Harry Potter with my daughter and said, “Wouldn’t Death Eaters be a cool name for a book on scavengers? I wrote the proposal and the rest is history. That said, I’ve always felt scavengers are misunderstood and disrespected when they fill a crucial niche in our environmental health. Without scavengers, we’d stumble over dead stuff virtually every where.
One other factor stems from the Sasquatch debate. One of the factors that makes it hard to move the big guy from hoax to scientific possibility is the fact that we have never four a Bigfoot body. When I explain the possible reasons to kids at school visits, I’m often meet with a blank stare. So I decided to write a book that explained why we never find most dead bodies in the wilderness. Animals clean up the mess, even if it’s Bigfoot.
Death Eaters is an engaging mix of photographs and infographics. The credits indicate the photos came from many sources, however, there is no information on the infographics. What is the creative process for infographics? Does you create the caption and an artist provide the pictorial information, or does an artist independently decide what information might be useful to support the text?
In the 1990s, I wrote hundreds and hundreds of magazine and newspaper articles for young readers. I loved writing a primary text and pulling out a topic or two as sidebars–info graphics. My books reflect that history and my desire to give kids all kinds of “success” as readers. If you’re tired, you might not tackle a chapter, but you can tackle a sidebar. I write the text for those elements and my editors at Millbrook selected appropriate images.
You have a background in journalism. Has that helped you with your writing non-fiction for kids? Why or why not?
I studied journalism in high school and college. I thought I was going to be an investigative reporter. But when you write hard news about a “bad guy,” the guy has family impacted by the news. I realized I didn’t have the heart to crush people in proximity of the news. So I turned to writing for kids. I work just has harder, even harder for young readers but I never have to be mean spirited. So my journalism impacted the standards I have–three sources in agreement for any fact or theory, mutiple books and fresh interviews with the experts that wrote them, etc.–without a doubt. But curiosity as at the core of everything I write. It always has been.
If you don’t mind telling us, what’s next for you?
This fall my follow-up to Tales of the Cryptids will debut, thanks to Sasquatch/Little Bigfoot (distributed by Penguin Random House). Cryptid Creatures: A Field Guide is 224 pages of very carefully researched information on 50 different animal mysteries around the world. I wanted to write a book for the kids who might have outgrown a picture book, but not the topic it was about. I’m delighted to have had the chance to do that. Rick Spears, who so deftly illustrated the original, also illustrated the new book.
I’m also working on about six new projects. One is about tardigrades, the toughest tiny creature on earth. One is about prehistoric amber. One is about the only dinosaur fossil ever found in Washington State. One is about the art of natural history. One is about world geology. One is about poop and one is about death. I never run out of ideas, or the energy to try and bring them to life. I love what I do– especially the weird way I do it.
This is an ingenious tactile and visual board book, that utilizes bold colors, simple shapes, and humor to make homophones and quirks of the English language accessible for young readers. This book was the winner because of its beguiling simplicity that appealed to a range of ages from toddlers to early elementary.
Sometimes it’s fun to pretend to be someone else…Fox prowls like a tiger, Turtle turns into a race car, and Rabbit beeps and boops like a robot. But when the rain puts an end to pretend, Fox discovers he’s special just the way he is. A new title in the classic I Can Read series, Fox the Tiger is a sweet, clever read for fans of Elephant and Piggie. Familiar characters from Tabor’s picture books combine with fun vocabulary and simple sentences to encourage independent reading. At the same time, the story’s sophisticated themes of identity and multiple layers encourage re-reading for more advanced readers.
At first, Jasmine is thrilled to learn about the upcoming school talent show. But soon she begins to doubt the presentability of her talents on stage. With a flash of brilliance (and in perhaps one of the best conversations of the book), Jasmine’s mother recommends learning taiko—a Japanese drum—that she once played. With the help of a talented and compassionate instructor, Jasmine sets to work rehearsing her routine just days before the talent show. Will she be able to remember it all on the big day? Will she remember that kindness is more important than perfection? With interwoven cultural elements and memorable characters, this early chapter book adds a new volume to the series and stands well on its own. Jasmine Toguchi, Drummer Girl strikes the balance between strong characters, a solid plot, and valuable life lessons.
The Witch Boy is a clever graphic novel that will appeal to many students. The illustrations are captivating and the story has family, friendship, support, and tension. The novel takes on important issues such as acceptance and understanding. It’s the story of Aster, a boy who wants to learn the art of magic, an art that is traditionally only girls’ work. Boys are supposed to be able to shapeshift, but so far, Aster can’t.
The authentic multicultural characters are different colors and ethnicities. Charlie, the one non-magic girl, has two dads and she has a wonderful connection with Aster. While there is a demon of sorts, it turns out that the people themselves, in their rigidness, are responsible for its creation.
The novel has beautiful artwork that is easy to follow. The use of white gutters depicts daytime and black is for night. The reader will become engaged and speed through the novel.
Joan Procter, Dragon Doctor
by Patricia Valdez; illustrated by Felicita Sala
Alfred A. Knopf Books for Young Readers
Publisher/ Author Submission
At a time when most women of her age and class were hosting tea parties and behaving demurely at home, Joan Procter was studying reptiles. She even had a crocodile for a pet! Felicita Sala’s child-friendly art and Patricia Valdez’s simple and engaging text chronicle Joan Procter’s life from girlhood to her untimely death at 34. Despite struggling with chronic ill-health, sexism from the scientists of the day, and general disinterest and fear of reptiles, Joan Procter made significant scientific contributions to the study of reptiles. She also designed exhibits at the London Zoo and encouraged the public to foster an interest in, and knowledge of, reptiles. Back matter includes a bibliography, additional biographical information, two photos of a young Joan Procter, and a few paragraphs on Komodo Dragons, one of Joan’s favorite reptiles. Young readers will be inspired to pursue their own scientific interests, overcome barriers both societal and physical, and learn more about the strange, wonderful creatures that Joan Procter loved.
Morrigan has grown up believing she is cursed. Then, on her eleventh birthday, her luck changes when she’s whisked off to the magical city of Nevermoor, and invited to compete to be a member of the Wundrous society. Readers will assume she makes it through the trials, but Morrigan’s low self-esteem means she herself is doubtful, and so it’s not just her external triumph that makes readers cheer for her. Thought the good vs. evil plot might seem familiar, there are plent of unique twists. The zany world of Nevermoor is wildly original, and the characters are vivid and three-dimensional. Fantasy-loving kids will be hooked by this memorable, magical story, and want the next book right away!
This is a hilarious, well-written book to help young readers explore the concept of how we begin to live in community and develop relationships with our peers. The youngest school children discover the empathy needed to treat each other kindly. This book was the winner because it’s a great message that uses humor to get the point across. The giggles that this book generates will bring kids back to it again and again to enjoy and learn from it multiple times.
Set in the fictional town of Lambert, South Carolina (although based on the author’s hometown, Florence, SC), it’s the present-day story of Candice and her new friend Brandon as they research the past and a letter Candice found in her grandmother’s attic. They have a sweet friendship and make an unstoppable team. Candace not only wants to clear her beloved grandmother’s name for some wrong doings, but also discover if there really is a huge amount of money hidden somewhere in the town. To do so she and her friend will have to solve a puzzle. Readers will cheer for them to succeed.
Racism, gay acceptance, police violence against black youth, bullying, and sexism are many of the themes you’ll find. Each helps shape the plot and the characters’ actions, but they don’t completely take over the story. The Parker Inheritance weaves them into one glorious tale full of mystery and friendship all kids will enjoy.
The characters are vividly created—not just the two protagonists but all the support ones, and the author gives them their own complexity and nuance. The South Caroline setting, both past and present, is powerfully evoked and the Jim Crow era is strikingly brought to life, teaching black history in a relatable way. People see what they want to see and the story shows how pointless racism is both in the past and present.
Yes, the themes in The Parker Inheritance are ripe for discussion at home and in the classroom. Along with the intriguing and unpredictable mystery, it’s a thoroughly engaging novel with heart.
With a title that makes an immediate connection to the iconic Harry Potter series, Death Eaters is sure to grab middle grade readers, whether or not they enjoy the gross side of science. This is a fascinating and compassionate look at death, the cycle of life, and decomposition. Halls addresses the science of decomposition – what happens to skin, blood, and the body after death? – and then jumps right into a description of the various creatures involved in the breakdown of the body. Beginning with blowflies and other bugs and moving on to mammalian creatures (yes, humans are included) Halls covers a wide range of sometimes surprising links in the decomposition cycle. The author takes readers beyond the the grave to explore the effect of humans on the environment, specifically when they kill or alter the habits of vital creatures in the decomposition cycle. Halls concludes the book with a thoughtful memory from her youth and a reflection on the sometimes scary and gross, but always interesting processes of death. Source notes, glossary, bibliography, further reading, and photo acknowledgements are also included. While not the most savory of topics, this is an important subject both in science and life. Kids who are exploring science need to see the sometimes gross and scary side as well as the cute animals and exciting experiments and realize how seemingly small changes, like eliminating apparently useless creatures such as vultures, can have a huge impact on the world.
Boots on the Ground does more than just inform the reader about the U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War (though it does a good job at that level too). By focusing each chapter on a specific individual who served in some capacity–from medic to officer, from volunteer to draftee–the book puts the reader right into the thick of things. The author’s extensive research and interviews show in the wealth of detail about each person’s path to Vietnam, what they experienced there, and how it affected them. The stories are roughly chronological, and are interspersed with accounts of how presidents from JFK to Nixon handled their responsibilities and challenges. Most chapters feature photos of the subject just before the war and after they’d had “boots on the ground” for some time, and those images are as haunting as the text. Students who are interested in the topic can read it cover to cover, or sample the chapters that grab their attention.
LONG WAY DOWN is a tour de force work of poetry. The entire novel in verse takes place on an elevator ride as a young man whose brother has been shot and killed descends to avenge his murder. Along the way, he is visited by the ghosts of those he has lost, the elevator filling with smoke as each enters to question, chide, taunt, and harangue him. This masterful narrative structure and the claustrophobic setting in that metal box filled with smoke, ghosts, and words create a gripping tension and kinetic energy that make LONG WAY DOWN nearly impossible to put down. Jason Reynolds’s spare, lyrical language and gorgeous, mesmerizing imagery stay with you and compel re-reading and discussion. This novel in verse makes maximum use of the format, using the poem placement, the background art, and the free verse poems themselves all working in harmony. Reynolds varies his approach to the poems to keep the tension high, repeating references, using anthropomorphism, and incorporating anagrams that startle, like a pause for a breath. His use of poetic language is vivid and powerful including: “how do you hug what’s haunting you?”, “another piece of me, an extra vertebra, some more backbone”, “headlock that felt like a hug”, and “pushing the pistol under my pillow like a lost tooth.” The questions this book raises about the cycle of violence and the responses it evokes also make LONG WAY DOWN a natural for discussion with young readers themselves.
The Faithful Spy is incredibly complete coverage of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s life as well as the political climate of Germany during World War II. Not only is this information amazingly detailed (it’s hard to believe the author that he left out many things), but the style in which it was presented was innovative and attractive– hand-drawn style lettering on highly decorated pages rendered in red, black, and teal, that are an interesting and effective cross between vintage newspaper editorial cartoons and Mad Magazine drawings. This is a book that will appeal to young readers with a penchant for reading graphic novels and World War II aficionados alike.
Raw, gritty, and relevant, Sadie by Courtney Summers begins by introducing podcaster West McCray, whose interviews and investigation for the podcast The Girls serve as one of the two narrative threads of the novel. Summers’ words to introduce the podcast within the novel also illuminate the strengths of Sadie itself—Sadie is about “what happens when a devastating crime reveals a deeply unsettling mystery. It’s a story about family, about sisters, and the untold lives lived in small-town America. It’s about the lengths we go to protect the ones we love . . . and the high price we pay when we can’t.”
Sadie Hunter herself provides the other narrative thread, weaving past and present to tell the chilling story of her own childhood and her quest to find some sort of justice for her sister. What emerges is an evocative, captivating thriller appealing to teenage fans of true-crime stories. Sadie succeeds because it feels so real.
The author’s story is poignant and a realistic portrayal of a teen dealing with a heroin addicted mother and absent father. It is important for teens to hear that that there are all sorts of families out there.The author shows what it was like growing up around a loved one who is a drug addict. It shows the secrets, whispers, and guilt that family members carry around. Krosoczka depicts how art saved him and helped him cope with the pain he held inside. He includes actual illustrations from his childhood and teen years. There are also photos of him with his mother.
Krosoczka shows his love for the grandparents who raised him. They weren’t “perfect,” but they supported him and his dreams, like when they encouraged him to sign up for art classes. Krosoczka loved art and after his public school cut it out of the budget, having another means available to continue learning how to draw helped him in more ways than one.
The illustrations of Krosoczka attempting to get his mother to come home and notice him are heart wrenching and will resonate with many readers. This is the perfect book for a class discussion on how addiction shouldn’t be a hush subject. Only when discussions on sensitive subjects like addiction happen, will loved ones not blame themselves.
This coming of age memoir is good in its telling of the power of art, friendship, teacher support, and belief in one’s self. It ends with hope and awareness.
In Tess of the Road, author Rachel Hartman masterfully employs the classic fantasy quest format as a metaphor for Tess’s emotional journey towards healing and self-acceptance. The ‘road novel’ is a familiar trope, but Tess’s journey is full of unexpected bends in the road: difficult family relationships, guilt over past mistakes, trouble accepting help from others.
As an epic fantasy, it’s easy to expect stakes that are larger than life: good vs. evil, the fate of the universe. Where Tess is different is that she wrestles with struggles we all face daily–including how to push through other people’s ideas about you to get to the heart of who you really are. She’s a relatable main character, and readers will find themselves rooting for her to overcome her flaws.
This novel is action-packed, yet also richly layered. It has humor and suspense as well as depth and subtlety, as Tess sorts through complex issues that will resonate with readers and engage them in her quest for self-understanding and self-acceptance.