Meet 11-year-old Ellie. She feels like something of a misfit in her artistic family. Her theater director mother and actor father wonder why she doesn’t have the theater gene, and Ellie worries that she’ll never find her passion in life. Adding to her loneliness, she misses elementary school and her best friend Brianna, who suddenly doesn’t seem to realize she’s even alive. Things aren’t going great for Ellie, and then Melvin appears.
Melvin is 13, grouchy and likes to wear old man’s clothes. He only wants to eat Chinese food. He argues with Ellie’s mom about the man she’s dating. He is forced to go to Ellie’s school and he gets detention for yelling about science. In fact, he sounds suspiciously like her scientist grandfather, but how could it be possible?
Through Melvin, Ellie discovers her hidden passion all along: science. She learns about famous scientists like Salk, Oppenheimer, Curie and Pasteur. She goes on madcap adventures and failed heists. She asks some difficult questions: are all scientific discoveries good for everyone? What happens if they’re not?
Written by three-time Newbery Honor-winning author Jennifer L. Holm, The Fourteenth Goldfish is making itself known on the Newbery Medal blogs as a front-runner for the prize in January. Told with heart, humor and mischief, this is a must-read for all young scientists starting to discover the world on their own and for the adults who want to cultivate the wonder of lifelong learning. It teaches us not to just believe in the impossible, but to believe in the possible!
In years past, whenever the tiny fishing village of Drowning was in dire straits, unlikely heroes would skulk from its darkest corners to lend their dexterous yet reluctant hands. These mysterious "Luck Uglies" used to be revered among the villagers as masters of skullduggery and subterfuge, but after an order from "The Great" Earl Longchance, the former peoples' champions became fugitives overnight. In The Luck Uglies, much time has elapsed since the Uglies' presence in Drowning; so much so, that they're presently regarded as little more than tall tales.
Riley and her best friends Folly and Quinn read all about the fabled Luck Uglies in a book they pilfer from a poet in town. The book is filled with all sorts of hearsay about Drowning and its surrounding territories, including the foreboding forest known as "Beyond the Shale" and the bogs known as, well, "The Bogs." The Bogs are said to be inhabited by a nasty group of creatures known as Bog Noblins — think hobgoblins, but way meaner and even way uglier. Bog Noblins haven't been seen around Drowning since even before the Uglies disappeared. Imagine everyone's surprise when one emerges from The Bogs and trundles into town!
The adventurous trio has so many questions. Where'd the Bog Noblin come from? Wait, we know that: The Bogs. But why, after all this time, did it suddenly show up? And have the nights seemed darker lately? And why have the rooks and ravens recently taken to roosting at the Dead Fish Inn? And wait, wasn't that gargoyle atop a different building yesterday?
Paul Durham's The Luck Uglies is the first book in a planned series with great potential. With a vibrant, fanciful world teeming with creatures to discover and adventures to be had, Riley, Folly and Quinn are given chances to become true heroes — not the kind that have to hide in the sewers to avoid the Earl.
The legends of Bigfoot and his cryptid relatives (Yeti, Chupacabra, etc.) have been around for centuries, but author/illustrator Kevin Sherry has put a new spin on this old standard. In The Yeti Files #1: Meet the Bigfeet, Sherry tells the story from a Yeti’s point of view. Told in semi-graphic novel style with lots of illustrations, the reader is introduced to Blizz Richards, the Yeti narrator, and many of his friends and relatives. After receiving an invitation to a Bigfeet family reunion, Blizz relates how such reunions used to be held annually until his cousin Brian broke the code of the cryptid community and vanished forever.
Filled with silly humor, the story follows the plight of Blizz and his helpers — a goblin, an elf and an Arctic fox — as they try to find Brian and thwart the attempts of an evil cryptozoologist who wants to expose the cryptids to the world! While elementary aged children will undoubtedly enjoy the illustrations and offbeat story, Sherry has put enough subtle details in his drawings to entertain older readers too. The vocabulary can be a bit daunting, but Sherry does explain some of the more difficult terms (for example, cryptid is “a hidden animal whose existence has never been proven”). The first book in a new series, the story ends with a teaser for the next installment which may involve the Loch Ness Monster!
Kevin Sherry is a local Baltimore author who also founded Squidfire.com, an online t-shirt business.
At turns hilarious and poignant, Sisters marks Raina Telgemeier’s latest autobiographical graphic novel reminiscence of her childhood and adolescence. This family story is a companion of sorts to her earlier Eisner Award-winning Smile. The events of a fateful summer of her early adolescence are clearly depicted in episodic arcs which show the early days of two young artists. As the book opens, Raina, her younger sister Amara, and little brother Will are packing camping supplies with their mom as they travel from San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado. This road trip doesn’t go quite as planned, of course, and the journey plainly displays a long-seething sibling rivalry between the two girls. In flashbacks, Raina’s initial desire for a baby sister quickly turns sour when Amara’s personality doesn’t match Raina’s expectations.
And there are other issues at play here as well – Raina’s father has been laid off from his job, and her parents’ relationship suffers because of it. A string of ill-conceived pet adoptions, culminating in a snake escape, adds another wrinkle of tension among the family members. But the concerns are limited compared to the amusing situations Raina finds herself in. Telgemeier’s signature vibrant line-drawings are deceptively simple, and her characters are portrayed with expressive detail. The full-color illustrations make for an appealing package which is easy to follow, given the non-linear chronology. Readers can easily empathize with the Telgemeier family and their frustrations and triumphs. Sisters is a quick, pleasurable read, and the book will become a sure-bet for siblings dealing with conflict.
As summer draws to an end, it’s time to start getting the little ones ready for school. This new adventure can be a little scary for kids. What will they do at school? Will they make any friends? Will their teacher be nice? Help your child prepare for the first day of school with these new picture books.
Being the littlest Valkyrie in Asgard is a lot of fun, but sometimes Edda wonders what it would be like to be with kids her own age. Fortunately, Edda’s papa knows just what to do in Edda: A Little Valkyrie’s First Day of School, written and illustrated by Adam Auerbach. Flying down to earth for her first day of school, Edda is worried. She’s never been away from Asgard and isn’t sure that she will fit in. Things are a lot different at school on earth than they are in Asgard, but Edda is brave and, through a writing assignment, soon makes some new friends. Auerbach’s simple pen and ink illustrations have been digitally colored and help tell this mythology-meets-real-life story.
Monsters love adventures, but with summer coming to an end, Blue must prepare to go on his biggest adventure of all in Monsters Love School, written and illustrated by Mike Austin. With the help of his monster friends, Blue makes sure he has all the supplies needed to start school. But why does he have to go to school? “I already know my ABGs and 413s and XYDs!” says Blue. Children will be able to relate to Blue’s worries and cheer him on as he experiences all the wonders of his first day at school. Digitally enhanced illustrations with monsters reminiscent of Monsters Inc., Austin’s book is sure to please your little monster.
What is WondLa? When Eva Nine left home in the first book of the WondLa trilogy by Tony DiTerlizzi, all she had was her robotic Muthr and a picture of a place called WondLa, a land that seemed to offer everything she ever wanted out of life. A lot has changed since then. She's made friends, she's made a few enemies and she's discovered that the world has changed from what she was trained to face. The entire Earth had gone dormant until a life generator tried to make the planet livable again for alien colonists. Eva Nine has discovered that she's not the last human in the world, but what's left of humanity is being pushed into a war that doesn't need to be fought. The time has come for The Battle for WondLa.
This is a great series to grow up with. There's action, adventure, even a little romance, but there's also some pretty hefty philosophical concepts so the book is not age-locked. Alien — and not-so-alien but still bizarre — beasts live and die and figure out what they stand for. Tony DiTerlizzi was also one of the writers and illustrators for the Spiderwick Chronicles, and just as he did with those books, the WondLa trilogy overflows with inventive and monochrome character-filled illustrations. It's possible to get a sense of who the characters are and what they'll do just by looking at them.
This might not be an appropriate read for very young children. Violence abounds and terrifying situations are common, but that's part of growing up. Scary story elements are right next to affirmations of friendship, fascinating world building and the essential idea that all people see things differently. This may be a children's book, but readers of any age should be able to enjoy this one.
Theodora Tenpenny has more than her share of burdens for a 13-year-old. With the death of her beloved grandfather Jack, Theo has been thrust into the role as head of the household which includes taking care of her sweet but thoroughly withdrawn mother, tending to the family’s crumbling, 200-year-old Greenwich Village townhome, fending off creditors and trying to make ends meet with a legacy of less than $500. Fortunately, her grandfather’s dying words have given her some hope. “Look under the egg,” he tells her, hinting that a supposed fortune lies waiting there. In Laura Marx Fitzgerald’s Under the Egg, this clue sets the plucky and resourceful Theo on a series of adventures that she could never have anticipated.
Fitzgerald does an amazing job of capturing not only what Theo is feeling as she is forced to take over the role of parent to her ineffectual mother, but how Theo manages to still behave like a typical 13-year-old girl. One thing Theo yearns for almost as much as a way out of her financial nightmare is to have a friend. When she meets Bodhi, the daughter of a Hollywood couple temporarily living down the street from Theo, the two girls instantly bond. They decide to team up to figure out the mystery surrounding an odd painting that Theo discovers in Jack’s studio. Is this the work of the world-renowned artist Raphael? If so, how did Theo’s grandfather acquire it? Soon Theo discovers that Jack also worked with the famous “Monuments Men” group during World War II, and she is confronted by even more questions. It’s up to Theo and Bodhi to solve these questions and discover the real mystery lying “under the egg.”
For sixth grader Anna Wang, life is presenting her with some serious and exciting challenges. She’s learning her way around middle school, trying to make new friends and accepting her adopted baby sister Kaylee. In The Year of the Fortune Cookie by Andrea Cheng, Anna’s also been offered the chance of a lifetime. Her family’s friends, the Sylvesters, have invited Anna and her mom to travel to China. Being a Chinese-American and having a basic understanding of the language, Anna realizes that this trip is a way to connect with her Chinese relatives, see the orphanage where her sister used to live, and improve her language skills. Unfortunately, Anna’s mom cannot get time off from work to accompany her so she has to travel by herself.
This third installment in the Anna Wang series gives the young heroine some real-life issues to deal with in a thought-provoking way. While Anna has never even travelled out of state by herself before, the chance visit to China is one that she cannot turn down, even though it takes a lot of inner strength and courage for her to go. Cheng effectively portrays how Anna, being one of a small number of Asian-American students in her home town, is suddenly thrust into a culture where she no longer sees herself as a minority. Yet, while the Chinese people do not stare at Anna as an outsider, she comes to realize that she is not just Chinese or just American but both. Cheng also nicely integrates some simple Chinese words and symbols throughout the story so young readers can learn something about the language.
Aileen was supposed to become a wise woman like her Aunt Beck, but then she messed up her initiation and spends the following morning in one of those depressions that sucks the joy right out of eating. So maybe it's just as well that she and her aunt are summoned to the castle and sent off on a quest to reopen the sealed land of Logre, which vanished behind a wall not long after Aileen was born. Things go wrong. When Aunt Beck gets herself cursed out of her own stubbornness, it's up to Aileen to take over and deal with all the problems — both large and small — that crop up.
When Diana Wynne Jones died in 2011, we lost one of the great fantasy and children's writers of the past century. There's a sense, not just of magic and quests, but of people who actually have to live in a world where curses might mean that every meal has to be spoon-fed, and where the horse isn't a gallant steed but a donkey that gets the cart stuck in the mud sometimes. There's true love, the refutation of childhood crushes and a gentle understanding that people sometimes make the wrong choices when they're alone. It doesn't take center stage, but there's a lot that an older reader will get that a child won't.
What makes a Diana Wynne Jones story is the understanding that as wonderful as magic is, it doesn't solve problems. Magic is merely an extension of the personality of the people who use it. Character, not power, decides the fate of Aileen and her companions.
The Islands of Chaldea was completed by Diana Wynne Jones's sister, Ursula Jones, an acclaimed novelist and actress.
Harry Hammer, a hammerhead shark, has created his list of the top five coolest sharks in existence. Of course, number one is the great white with their rows of pointy sharp teeth. Number two is the fast swimming blue shark. The stripy and scary tiger shark clocks in at number three, and number four is the ginormous whale shark. Finally, to round out the top five cool sharks, there's the bull shark, who can swim in rivers as well as the sea. So what could be cool about a goofy-looking hammerhead shark? That’s the question on Harry’s mind in the first book of Davy Ocean’s new series, Shark School: Deep Sea Disaster.
When Harry’s class goes on a field trip to a shipwreck for a group project, their sea turtle teacher has given them strict instruction to not go into the wreck because it’s too dangerous. However, Harry’s group ignores their teacher’s instructions and enters the rusty old ship anyway. Things turn bad and the students become trapped in the collapsing wreck. Can Harry use his special hammerhead sensory powers to find a way out and prove that he’s just as cool as all the other sharks in the sea?
In the second installment, Shark School: Lights! Camera! Hammerhead!, we follow Harry and his friends as they try to find something entertaining to do during school vacation. When the “leggy air-breathers” arrive to make a new movie, Harry hatches a plan to become famous, just like his hero Gregor the Gnasher. But Harry’s not the only shark with aspirations for stardom. Will Harry be able to nab a starring role in the film? Or will Rick Reef steal the show?
These fast-paced, action-filled, underwater adventures are sure to please first chapter readers. From dealing with bullies to embracing your own uniqueness, kids will be able to identify with the situations faced by Harry and his friends. As an added bonus you can enjoy some “Shark Bites,” fascinating facts about the animals that live in the ocean.