In the world of the Six Princes, each nation is ruled by a House that is adept in a particular kind of magic. For Lily of House Shadow, descended from necromancers and dark wizards, this magic — Shadow Magic — is forbidden to her, because she’s a girl. Her brother, the heir to the throne of Gehenna, the land of the undead, could learn magic, but she couldn’t.
When her family is assassinated, she becomes queen, a role she never was expected to fill. She’s also now the only one who can fulfill the marriage arrangement between House Shadow and House Solar, rulers of the Lumina, the land of light, who were previously House Shadow’s mortal enemy. Per the agreement, she will have to leave everything she loves and knows and move to her obnoxious fiancé’s homeland if she hopes to maintain the shaky peace between their Houses.
In another nation, the peasant boy Thorn is trying to find his father when he’s captured and sold as a slave to House Shadow’s executioner Tyburn. He faces a life far from everything he knows, trapped in service to the rulers of a world of shadow and darkness, where rumor says vampires roam freely and the dead are House Shadow’s army. He’s not exactly thrilled at the thought of becoming some monster’s lunch.
Meeting at Castle Gloom, these two unlikely allies will have to rely on each other to keep Lily in Gehenna, keep Thorn out of trouble, uncover a plot to overthrow House Shadow and stop a murderous necromancer from raising an army of zombies. Their allies include a captured prince from another nation and a giant bat, but their enemies may be a lot closer than they know.
The first in a series, Joshua Khan’s debut children’s book is full of macabre fantasy, daring adventure and a dash of political intrigue. Shadow Magic is an action-packed mystery with plenty of surprises. The illustrations are delightful, the characters are complex and the cliffhangers will keep readers guessing until the end. Any fan of the Percy Jackson or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series should check out Shadow Magic. Readers also won’t have to wait long for the second book; it’s already slated to be published next year.
The biggest hero of our time, the only creature that can rescue this dimension from an invasion of demons, the Greatest Warrior of our world…is a bean-shaped little scamp. More monster than human, more lazy than adventuring and more gluttonous than anything, the protagonist of Help Us! Great Warrior is not exactly the picture that comes to mind when imagining a legendary hero. She’s a three-foot-tall orb that wears boots and a bow on her head. She wields a sword and shield when she feels like it, but mostly because one’s shaped like a heart and the other has a cute bunny for a handle. When called upon to save the world by Hadiyah, the legendary guardian and keeper of the hero registry, her response is an awe inspiring, “Nah.” Only when her villagers are threatened — and with the encouragement of her best friend Leo — does she finally drag herself into battle.
Quirky is an understatement when it comes to the adorable, whimsical, bizarre story of Help Us! Great Warrior. It’s artistically bright and bouncy, with soft and appealing characters that make an instant and lasting impact as you enjoy each page. The humor hinges on the bizarre and unexpected, reminding readers not only visually but story-wise of other children’s epics like Adventure Time. Prepare to be enchanted by Great Warrior and her journey. She’s especially great for kids and especially inspiring for young girls, but a delight to all ages.
After a long and snowy winter, springtime is here...and so are the bears! If you like your picture books entertaining and educational, be sure to check out these three new books.
Shh! Bears Sleeping written by David Martin with pictures by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher opens with a mama bear and her two cubs awakening at the beginning of spring, and then follows the three American black bears through the year, all the way to the next winter when the bears again pile in their den to sleep. The oil painting illustrations depicting scenes throughout the four seasons are beautifully done, and readers will enjoy the short, fun rhyming text as well as the additional facts presented in a short section at the end.
In A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by David Roberts, the narrator guides you through a walk in the woods where you are lucky enough to encounter both a black bear and a brown bear. The narrator talks you through the encounter and explains a few differences between them. While the book is humorous, it is careful to let young readers know that the only bears you should snuggle are of the stuffed variety. The illustrations are gorgeous, quirky and sure to bring laughs.
Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall tells the fascinating story behind the namesake of Winnie-the-Pooh. In 1914, a veterinarian and solider named Captain Harry Colebourn bought a bear cub for $20 at a train station. The cub traveled across the Atlantic Ocean with the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade and became their mascot and companion as they trained in England. Named Winnipeg in honor of Colebourn’s hometown, the bear found a permanent home at the London Zoo when the soldiers shipped to France. Author Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Colebourn and frames the tale as a bedtime story to her young son, Cole. The story is fascinating, and the connection to A. A. Milne’s famous bear adds extra interest.
Reading poems out loud is a great way for children to learn the auditory aspects of English, such as rhyme, meter, assonance and alliteration. These colorful books for children add visual enrichment to poetry and are great picks for this year’s National Poetry Month.
Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell and Bob Shea is filled with animal-themed haikus and brightly illustrated pictures. Each haiku is from a different animal with simple clues as to what that animal might be. The first animal comes from a farm and uses “muffled mooing” to announce a “fresh pail of milk.” Turn the page and you find that the haiku does in fact come from a cow! The book continues in this pattern, with haiku clues on one page and the animal answer on the next, making a fun guessing game for kids reading the book. The book has a note from the author explaining that traditional Japanese haikus have an element of play, making this guessing game a lesson in cultural context as well as poetic style.
Betsy Franco and Michael Wertz’s A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters is another book of poems about animals, but these animals are exclusively from the sea. This book also features a different animal on each page, but makes use of typography and a catchy blue, orange and white ocean-themed color scheme to capture the reader’s attention. The rhyming patterns vary depending on the animal. Sea turtles get a regal ode, words to describe a jellyfish curve around the page and a pair of needlefish intersect at the letter “e” for a crossword puzzle-style word cloud of adjectives. There are well-known styles of poems utilized as well, from a lion-fish haiku to a coral-reef acrostic. The end of the book includes further resources about sea creatures and aquatic wildlife, making this book a colorful compendium of science, art and literature.
Life is Far from Fair for Odette Zyskowski in Elana K. Arnold’s new novel. If it had been put to a vote, Odette would not have elected to sell her family home, move into an ugly RV and share one cell phone with her quarreling parents and volatile younger brother. But her father didn’t ask for Odette’s opinion before quitting his job and uprooting the family, and the list of unfair occurrences in her life has begun to pile up at a rapid pace as they travel to Grandma Sissy’s home. However, none of the problems and predicaments along the way compares to the unfairness Odette discovers when they arrive.
When Odette and Grandma Sissy are discussing how powerless Odette feels during this time of upheaval, Grandma Sissy reveals what Odette calls a “grownup truth” — those things grownups know to be true, but don’t typically share: Sometimes you are powerless. Sometimes, bad things happen and we can't stop them. This book contains many such grownup truths, but Arnold does not preach to or talk down to her readers. Hard subjects are confronted gently but directly.
The settings, all the way from suburban California to Washington’s Orcas Island, as well as the difficulties of living in an RV, are so superbly described it may leave you wondering if the author herself ever embarked on such a road trip. The book does indeed have true life beginnings: After Arnold’s husband was laid off, they sold their home and belongings and hit the open road. Meanwhile, Arnold pursued her dream of being a writer. Far from Fair is her sixth novel for teen and young readers.
For more well-written children’s fiction that confronts issues of family life and illness, check out So B. It by Sarah Weeks and Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.
Was Ramona Quimby one of your best friends? Did you want a mouse on a motorcycle? Then you enjoyed the imaginative and timeless worlds created by Beverly Cleary. Cleary’s wonderful books have impacted generations of readers and, today, as she celebrates her 100th birthday, we pay homage to a standard bearer of children’s literature.
Cleary noted that when she a child in the 1920s and as a young librarian, almost all of the children’s books she came across were about kids in England. Determined to offer children something more relatable, she put pen to paper with a simple writing style infused with humor and a story based on common human experiences. Her first book, Henry Huggins, published in 1950, was about a boy, his dog and their friends, all of whom lived on Klickitat Street in Portland, a street in Cleary’s childhood neighborhood. According to Cleary, Henry Huggins and the other child characters in the book were based on children she grew up with and those who attended story time at her library. She would go on to write several more books about Henry Huggins and his friends, including the Quimby sisters, who would be featured in their own books, the first of which, Beezus and Ramona, was published in 1955.
Popular with children, she was also a favorite with critics who recognized her skill and talent with numerous awards, including the National Book Award, the Newbery Medal and the National Medal of Arts. Cleary's books have been published in 20 different languages, and 91 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide since 1950. Indeed, her popularity is just as strong in Baltimore County with all of her titles in all formats circulating almost 4,000 times this year alone! A few weeks ago, Cleary sat with The Today Show for an interview where she was asked about this milestone and her career and she said she’s proudest of the simple fact that "children love my books."
Chances are you've never heard of the Punk Skunks. Despite their unique sound and emphasis on positive themes such as friendship, they remain largely ignored by the music industry, perhaps because they are skunks. But all of that’s about to change thanks to the new picture book Punk Skunks by the husband and wife team of Trisha Speed Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan.
Kit and Buzz were two BSFs (best skunks forever) who loved skateboarding, riding bikes, spray painting (literally spraying smelly pictures with their tails) and hanging out at their favorite club, ABCDs. But what they liked to do most of all was rock out. They bonded over their love of great punk bands such as the Ratmoans, the DescendAnts and Shrewsie Shrew, and gained a cult following thanks to their catchy songs “We’re Buzz and Kit” and “BSF.” But all of that was about to change.
One day while jamming at their practice space, the two musical geniuses clashed. Kit wanted to sing a song about skating and Buzz wanted to sing a song about painting. The creative differences were irreconcilable, and the Punk Skunks were no more. But was this really the end? Will this dynamic duo go the way of Lennon and McCartney, Jones and Strummer, Adam and his Ants? You’ll have to read to find out!
Even if you aren’t familiar with the Punk Skunks, this playful homage to the days of Chuck Taylors and safety pins has enough charm to make superfans of even the most jaded punks. And you can get to know these creative critters even better through this article at The Little Crooked Cottage where they were recently interviewed by a pig.
Pax, a new book by award-winning author Sara Pennypacker, will linger with readers long after they finish the final page. The story is told alternately by a young orphaned fox named Pax, and Peter, the boy who saved him. Peter found Pax shortly after his own mother died, and his father grudgingly let him keep the fox “for now.”
“For now” turned into five years. Pax becomes Peter’s family since his father is usually gone and is emotionally distant even when he is home. Now war threatens their home, and Peter’s father announces he is leaving to join the fight. Peter must stay with his formidable grandfather, a man who doesn’t approve of tame foxes. Peter is forced to abandon the now-domesticated Pax who lives off kibble, in the wilderness. The moment the boy leaves his fox behind, he knows he has made a terrible mistake.
While stories about lost pets are familiar to us, this one is unique. The journey that Pax and Peter take in order to find each other tests both, and they meet new characters who change them and us forever. As they come to understand difficult truths about the world, so do readers.
Pennypacker doesn’t offer a specific setting, just a land being destroyed by war. The conflict, which is never really clearly explained to readers either, affects not only the people, but also the land and the creatures. The story isn’t a simple protest against war, but a plea for people to be honest about the real price of conflict.
Pennypacker’s writing is beautiful. With clarity and compassion one doesn’t often find in children’s books, she addresses complicated themes like loneliness, love and the cost of war.
The art for this book is created by Caldecott award-winning illustrator Jon Klassen and perfectly matches the story in its simple, poignant style.
Pax is great for readers who enjoyed Sheila Burnford’s classic The Incredible Journey. Fans of these great animal stories will also enjoy Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt.
Simon Thorn is dreading the beginning of school. Each passing year, his enemies grow in number while his friends and fellow outcasts shrink from a few, to one, to finally zero. His loving uncle supports him as much as he can while he’s home, but outside of their little New York City apartment he feels alone and exposed.
You see, Simon, the titular character of Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den by Aimée Carter, can talk to animals, and they can talk to him. Birds, mostly, although he’s on good terms with many of the neighborhood rats, raccoons, squirrels and Felix, a mouse that lives in his bedroom. His habit of talking to nonhuman species has separated him from his peers until he has none left. On the first day back at school, attempting to face the new challenges awaiting him, he meets a strangely high number of new faces, starting with a gold eagle outside his window that insists catastrophe is around the corner, to a new classmate, Winter Rivera, who is more than she seems. Before Simon can even begin to deal with the difficulty of school itself and just being a kid under pressure, his mother suddenly returns, and secrets that have been kept from him his whole life start to unravel — a secret society of animal shapeshifters that have existed since the dawn of humanity, an academy of the animals hidden beneath the Central Park Zoo and the untold depths of his own family history and future.
Simon Thorn and the Wolf’s Den is a delight for animal and fantasy lovers alike, something for the young reader who can’t get enough of classic fantasy. Be sure to supplement your reading with research into the animal kingdoms and the multitudes of species explored in the book!
Edward Carey’s Iremonger trilogy is a rare children’s fantasy that, like the His Dark Materials trilogy or The Chronicles of Narnia series, can transport adults as well. The books take place in an alternate 1875, where Clod Iremonger lives with his family in a borough of London called Foulsham amongst a sea of discarded items called the Heaps. The strange and prosperous Iremonger family have a mysterious relationship with the trash surrounding them, and each family member carries a “birth object” that must never leave their side. Meanwhile, an illness is spreading, the poor are disappearing and a new servant girl named Lucy Pennant seems to be “upsetting” objects in the house. Clod, who has the unnatural ability to hear certain objects speak, begins to learn that the members of his family are more sinister than they appear.
Without spoiling too much, the narrative switches between Clod and Lucy as they discover that the Iremongers have managed to secure their status by literally objectifying the poor. But how? And can it be reversed? Learning the rules of this world is half the fun, and each revelation suggests exciting possibilities.
Each book in the trilogy focuses on a different location, beginning with Heap House, the Iremongers’ secluded mansion, then moving outward into the surrounding borough of Foulsham and concluding in the greater city of Lungdon. As the locations expand, the excitement builds.
Fans of Edward Gorey and Lemony Snicket will enjoy the trilogy’s playfully gothic tone, which leavens even its darkest moments with quirky turns of phrase, and the author’s detailed and ink-heavy illustrations will set you firmly in a world so strange and specific you’ll never want to leave.