In Neil Gaiman’s latest children’s book, Fortunately, The Milk, a father goes through an incredible series of side adventures as he tries to return home with a bottle of milk from the local store. In fact, it seems as if this hapless man encounters every sort of being from children’s literature: aliens, dinosaurs, pirates, vampires (which Gaiman calls ‘wumpires’), ponies and human-sacrificing islanders. After the father is late coming home with milk for his children’s cereal, he relates a tale that is both fantastic and silly about travelling through time with a very intelligent Stegosaurus. Naturally, his children don’t believe a word he says, but a twist at the end makes them wonder if there was any truth in his alibi.
Gaiman, whose past books include Coraline and The Graveyard Book, shares a story that could easily be turned into a Tim Burton film. Burton and Gaiman have collaborated in the past and it feels as if this book was written with a movie deal in mind. The pen and ink illustrations by Skottie Young add to the humor and give a definite comic book flavor to the tale. For youngsters who enjoy a fast-paced read with plenty of pictures, Fortunately, The Milk delivers in barely more than 100 pages.
Where would you take an injured baby dragon? To the imaginary veterinary if you are lucky enough to have one in town. The Sasquatch Escape is the first book in the Imaginary Veterinary series by Suzanne Selfors. In it, two 10-year-olds, Ben and Pearl, find themselves living in what could be the most boring town in the world, Buttonville. The Button factory has long been closed down when Ben moves in with his grandfather while his parents work out some “issues.” Pearl has lived there her whole life and is well-known as a troublemaker…so much so that she has been banned from the bookstore and other children are not allowed to play with her! When Ben’s cat catches a baby dragon, Ben and Pearl take the dragon to the only animal doctor in town, Dr. Woo of Dr. Woo’s Worm Hospital, located inside the old button factory. All is not as it seems at the Worm Hospital, as the children discover when a Sasquatch is let loose on the town!
Book two in the series, The Lonely Lake Monster, continues Ben and Pearl’s adventures as apprentices at the Worm Hospital. Tasked with trimming the Sasquatch’s toenails on the first day, they quickly become distracted by an enormous lake monster and a leprechaun with a head cold. When the lonely lake monster catches Ben for a pet, it is up to Pearl to save him (ideally without being caught breaking the rules, again!)
The Imaginary Veterinary series is filled with delightful characters from both the real world and the imaginary world. Underlying themes of loyalty and resilience add to the rich plotline. Selfors alternates points of view for each book, with book one being told from Ben’s point of view, and book two being told from Pearl’s. She adds some enrichment activities to the end of each book challenging the reader to use their imaginations with some writing, art and science activities. She also adds some background to the mythical creatures described in each book. This is an excellent adventure series for children who enjoy a little bit of fantasy. The third book, The Rain Dragon Rescue, is due out in January 2014.
Two new books are designed for young readers and on the shelf just in time for Halloween. With Frankenflies and witches these books seem made for this time of year, but are designed to celebrate the season without too much of a scare.
Tedd Arnold is the author of the bestselling series Fly Guy. Fly Guy and the Frankenfly is his spooky new installment. This book is a beginning reader with short manageable chapters for those young readers who are starting to read on their own.
After a night of crafting monster costumes, Buzz is lying in bed and before he drifts off to sleep he sees Fly Guy working away at the desk. As Buzz falls asleep he begins to dream that Fly Guy is Dr. Frankenstein in fly form and creates a Frankenfly. This Frankenfly is huge and Buzz is understandably frightened. Pick up this installment of Fly Guy to see how Buzz handles Frankenfly.
A Very Witchy Spelling Bee is written by George Shannon and illustrated by Mark Fearing. This picture book follows Cordelia, a young witch with a penchant for spelling. Not only does she spell words, but with the flick of her wrist and the addition of a letter she can turn a cow into a crow. She does these spells to pass the time, so when the Witches’ Double Spelling Bee is advertised, Cordelia can’t contain her excitement.
Cordelia feels she has been practicing for this very thing for her whole life. What she doesn’t know is that the long running champ Beulah Divine is a fiend who will stop at nothing to win. Beulah is even looking forward to winning against a child. How will Cordelia handle the pressures of competing with someone who is not only ruthless, but much older and more experienced as well?
This picture book is a combination of entertainment and education. The plot mixed with adorable illustrations create an entertaining story, and the subject of the book allows for the opportunity to practice spelling with your young reader.
Two new Halloween books are sure to capture the imagination of the youngest readers. Nighty Night, Little Green Monster by Ed Emberley is the perfect bedtime book for the season. A colorful young monster’s features are described with simple adjectives as each turn of the die-cut page builds his face. Once the reader sees this silly rather than scary character, the refrain “nighty night” repeats as page-turning slowly makes him disappear. Emerging readers will enjoy paging through the book on their own as the visual clues help tell the story. Go Away, Big Green Monster, now a modern childhood classic, was published by the same Caldecott-winning author/illustrator in 1992.
Whatever could be inside graphic designer/author Mark Gonyea’s The Spooky Box? The narrator speculates that the simply depicted black box could be filled with any number of creepy things, from bats to rats to spiders. Each page is more visually exciting than the last, as Gonyea skillfully builds suspense. Breaking down the fourth wall, he orders the reader to open the box to reveal its contents. Noises are now coming from within, and the speculation continues. This is a book that children and adults will enjoy equally; its surprise ending provides an opportunity for plenty of what-if discussions that will last long after the book is over. Gonyea dedicates his striking orange and black picture book to “everyone who loves thinking of endless possibilities.”
Noted film director (Home Alone, Harry Potter) Chris Columbus and Ned Vizzini serve up an action-packed adventure in House of Secrets. The Walker children, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor, have enjoyed a privileged childhood, but following an “incident” at the hospital where their father worked, the family has fallen on challenging times. Forced to relocate to San Francisco, the family happens upon a house that seems too good to be true. A grand old Victorian once owned by a famous author, the Kristoff House is offered at a fraction of its value. Enchanted, the Walkers quickly take up residence – but not for long.
The day of the move, a mysterious neighbor visits the household. Dahlia, the daughter of author Denver Kristoff, the original owner, seems friendly and harmless enough, but her exterior conceals the truly villainous nature of the Wind Witch. Soon enough, she has separated the children from their parents and cast them into the fantastical worlds of Kristoff’s books.
Left to fend for themselves in the mysterious realms of Kristoff’s fiction, Cordelia, Brendan and Eleanor must band together to make sense of their banishment and find a way to defeat the Wind Witch who has trapped them within the pages of her father’s works. Along the way, the children are alternately helped, hindered and betrayed by the characters they encounter.
This is a decidedly action-driven story and the precocious Walker children seldom experience a dull moment from the first time they lay eyes on the mysterious Kristoff House. Readers will find themselves similarly swept along for the ride. Though the cultural references in the dialogue may date the story before its time, today's kids will particularly enjoy the number of mentions of current popular media and electronic devices.
Recommended for upper middle grade or young adult readers for somewhat mature content, House of Secrets will hold particular appeal for fans of Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart series and Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events.
Danny Cohen is in the fourth grade, follows the rules and enjoys playing baseball. Calvin Waffle is the new kid in class, having recently moved with his mother into a house on Danny’s block. Calvin likes science experiments and seeing how far he can bend the rules without getting caught. It’s one of Calvin’s experiments that starts an unlikely friendship in Danny’s Doodles: The Jelly Bean Experiment by David A. Adler.
For a whole week, Calvin follows Danny everywhere, constantly writing his observations in a notebook. On the second week, Calvin asks Danny to hold jelly beans in his pocket. It seems like a strange request, but Danny agrees and the Jelly Bean Experiment is underway. What will Calvin learn from his experiment and how will Calvin’s powers of observation help Danny’s team win the upcoming baseball game?
This is a first in a new series by Adler, the author of the much loved Cam Jansen series. Child-like doodles are found throughout the book as if drawn by Danny. A funny story about friendship and acceptance, Danny’s Doodles is perfect for readers transitioning into chapter books.
From the author of Every Soul a Star comes a story that’s out of this world — literally! In Pi in the Sky, Wendy Mass weaves an imaginative tale of worlds colliding, and the rollercoaster adventure that results.
Joss is a seventh son. Not just any seventh son, but the seventh son of the Supreme Overlord of the Universe. Expecting a superhero, imbued with extraordinary powers and responsibilities? Guess again. Despite what you may have heard, being that special “seventh son” does not imbue you with any great powers or great responsibilities — even if your dad is the SOU. With six older brothers, the greatest responsibility Joss has ever held is delivering pies across The Realms to the Powers That Be.
That’s right; a glorified pie delivery boy.
Mind you, these aren’t ordinary pies, but more about that later...
To date, Joss’ life has revolved around going to school (even immortals need an education), hanging out with his best friend Kal and getting those pies delivered on time. Then one day, a girl from Earth winds up in The Realms after her planet has been obliterated and Joss’ whole world is thrown out of orbit. Upgraded from delivery boy to world architect, it’s up to Joss to somehow rebuild Earth with the help of the planet’s last human, Annika.
Pi in the Sky is a spirited fantasy of friendship, adventure and the awesome sciences that shape our world. It is a balanced story that is accessible and fun to read even as it incorporates some challenging concepts. The characters are relatable and the story is alternately playful and poignant. Chapters are headed by quotes from scientists and visionaries that succinctly capture the theme of the chapter to follow. Recommended for middle grade readers and, in particular, fans of Madeleine L’Engle’s A Swiftly Tilting Planet.
Forty years after World War III decimated the world’s population with its Green Bombs and catastrophically altered the Earth's landscape, a young girls leaps off a mountain without a parachute. Thus begins Sky Jumpers by Peggy Eddleman. As a result of the Green Bombs, metals formed different properties, new plants grew and electricity has been wiped out. Twelve-year-old Hope Toriella lives in a community formed in the crater of a bomb blast high in the mountains. Her small town focuses on re-inventing the lost technology of the bygone era. Her teacher shows them relics of cell phones, flashlights and cameras. New inventions range from a slotted spoon to medicines that combat new diseases. The bombs also created bands of air called the Bomb’s Breath, so dense a person will suffocate with just one inhalation. Miserably inept at inventing, Hope takes solace in the thrill of diving off a cliff through the Bomb’s Breath. The dense air slows her descent; she just has to remember to hold her breath. When word gets out that Hope’s town has medicine that combats the dreaded new Shadel’s Sickness, bandits take the town hostage until all of the medicine is turned over. To save her town, Hope and her friends must traverse dangerous terrains through the worst blizzard conditions since the war to seek help, all the while avoiding both bandits and the Bomb’s Breath.
This fast-paced adventure reads like a cross between a Wild West novel and a Mad Max movie. The author crafts an engaging, nail-biting story with strong characters and a great finish. Descriptions of the new earth are seamlessly woven into the plot, offering the reader a clear understanding of this altered world without sacrificing its storyline. Sky Jumpers is the first book in an anticipated series, with book two expected to be published in fall 2014. Young fans of science fiction and action adventure books will love Sky Jumpers.
(Release date 9/24/13)
Brandon Mull kicks off the latest multi-platform series for tweens with Wild Born, the first book in the Spirit Animals series. Each title will be written by a different popular children’s author. This new fantasy adventure series joins kid favorites, The 39 Clues and Infinity Ring, and is sure to be a hit with readers who appreciate fast-paced stories combined with online interaction.
The series is set in Erdas, a fantasy world where 11-year-old children are tested to see if they possess a spirit animal. If positive, the children will share a rare connection with an animal, a bond so strong that great powers are bestowed on both. Four children from vastly different cultures and all parts of the world not only reveal a spirit animal, but each calls one of The Four Fallen Beasts. Conor, Abeke, Meilin and Rollan call forth a wolf, leopard, panda and falcon. The resurrection of these four mighty animals signals a resurgence of an evil power that needs to be stopped. These four children are destined for the ultimate mission — to save Erdas. With the assistance of a powerful-but-secretive order, the four learn to bond with their animal and gain strength, wisdom and courage. The action is non-stop entertainment, and the world of Erdas is so clearly drawn, readers will be easily transported to this fantasy land.
The online role-playing game, available here, allows children to customize their own unique heroes, choose their spirit animals and go on their own quests to help save Erdas. Each book will unlock additional levels of game play. Look for the second book in the series in January, written by New York Times bestselling author Maggie Stiefvater. Additional authors slated to add installments include Marie Lu and Garth Nix.
Imagination runs wild in James Preller’s A Pirate’s Guide to Recess, illustrated by Greg Ruth. Cap’n Red and his merry crew are off on an adventure to find treasure when the lookout spies Molly and her mates. When Red calls for Molly’s surrender, his crew turns mutinous. Will Red be marooned on the open seas or will he be saved by the recess bell? Ruth’s illustrations easily delineate between full color reality and the line drawings in sepia and blue of the imaginary world. A homework section at the end of the book will help the reader expand their piratical vocabulary. This book is a follow up to Preller’s A Pirates Guide to First Grade.
Dave Horowitz takes us on a rhyming journey through the alphabet in Twenty-six Pirates. A call has gone out to assemble the crew of the Sea Princess, and 26 boys arrive in the hopes of joining the frog captain’s crew. From Arty to Zach, each boy’s name represents a letter of the alphabet. The illustrations are colorful and comical. Your little buccaneer will enjoy looking for the letters on each page.
Younger mateys will be delighted reading Peek-a-Boo Pirates by Charles Reasoner. The cardboard pages, simple dialogue and sweet illustrations are appealing to the wee rapscallions. Toddlers can identify each of the different animals of the pirate crew as they follow the treasure map to where X marks the spot.