Welcome back to the hilariously fractured fairy tale realm of Christopher Healy’s Thirteen Kingdoms. A good deal has happened since the adventures encountered in The Hero’s Guide to Saving Your Kingdom and the four lovable Princes Charming are back for another caper in The Hero’s Guide to Storming the Castle. When last we left the princes – Gustav, Liam, Duncan and Frederic – our noble heroes had just formed the League of Princes and had finally gained some recognition beyond the Prince Charming moniker. Now disaster once again looms on the horizon, and it’s up to the league to prevent a certain magical jewel from falling into villainous hands.
Despite having set the bar high with Saving Your Kingdom, Healy’s return to the Thirteen Kingdoms is as triumphant an extension of the story started in its predecessor as one could hope. The characters first introduced in Saving Your Kingdom begin to come into their own in this second helping of heroism. While the fast paced, catchy dialogue and imaginative scenarios still evoke plenty of chortles, the real strength of Storming the Castle lies in the progressive character development of the princes and their famed princess counterparts. Not without their flaws, each of these heroes and heroines have obstacles to overcome and a lot to learn about themselves along the way. Their distinctive personalities and developing friendships will leave the reader eager for the next in the series: The Hero's Guide to Being an Outlaw, coming in spring 2014. Recommended for middle grade readers and above.
Star Wars: Jedi Academy is a great new graphic novel by Jeffrey Brown. Roan Novachez has dreamed of being a starfighter pilot like his father. His brother attends Pilot Academy Middle School, so Roan feels certain that he will go there too. When his friends receive their acceptance letters, he begins to worry. Roan is crushed when a rejection letter arrives with the recommendation that he attend Tatooine Agriculture Academy. What could be worse than going to plant school?
All is not lost. Master Yoda has sensed Roan’s potential. “Strong in you, the Force is – Jedi, you may be.” Even though most students begin their training as toddlers, Roan packs up and leaves Tatooine to attend Jedi Academy on the distant planet of Coruscant. He will face all kinds of new challenges, from learning how to lift objects with the Force to deciphering what Master Yoda is saying. There are also the usual issues that every middle school student will encounter, like dealing with the class bully to that first crush.
Fluctuating between prose and comic book style, this book will appeal to the upper-elementary age children who liked The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, or the Diary of a Wimpy Kid and Big Nate series. But you don’t have to be a kid to enjoy this book. Star Wars fans of all ages will get a kick out Star Wars: Jedi Academy.
Detective Rick Zengo is a rookie working on his first case with a new partner. What starts out as a seemingly simple missing person case turns into a mystery involving organized crime and some high-ranking government officials. Writer Jarrett J. Krosoczka has put together an interesting cast of characters in The Frog Who Croaked, his first offering in the Platypus Police Squad series. Krosoczka is best known for his Lunch Lady graphic novels, and this book is full of his amusing illustrations. Anthropomorphic animals abound in this intriguing story with plenty of humor to appeal to both young and mature readers.
Zengo, who still lives with his parents, is trying to prove himself both to his fellow cops and to his family. He is the grandson of one of the most revered detectives in Platypus Police Squad, so he feels a lot of pressure to do his best. He wants to be taken seriously as a good cop on his own merit, but it takes a hard lesson from his more seasoned partner Corey O’Malley before Zengo can do so. The dynamic between Zengo and O’Malley may remind some readers of many cop show partners including Starsky and Hutch or Friday and Gannon. Krosoczka lays the groundwork in The Frog Who Croaked for more good-natured bickering and interesting adventures with this pair of detecting platypuses.
It’s that time of year again. With kids going back to school there are no doubt many new and exciting experiences. Chamelia is back to school as well and she is in for a surprise. Checkout Chamelia and the New Kid in Class by Ethan Long for that student in your life.
Chamelia has always been the center of attention and as the star of her class she’s not used to sharing the spotlight. On her first day of school she is stealing the show with an engaging story of her summer vacation when, much to her chagrin, a new boy is introduced to the class. Suddenly, attention is focused on someone other than Chamelia and she has to learn how to deal with the new class dynamic. Will she rise to the occasion or sink to new lows in order to regain her status as the center of attention?
This book is great for kids getting back into the groove of school, though it’s not the first book about this endearing character. If your child likes this book, checkout the book titled Chamelia as well.
Football season is about to kick off, and these three books are sure to get kids ready to cheer on our hometown Baltimore Ravens! Joe Flacco and the Baltimore Ravens: Super Bowl XLVII by Michael Sandler brings kids facts from Flacco’s life and career, and also features highlights from the Ravens’ Super Bowl win in February. Photos and statistics make this an entertaining read for elementary school-age kids who want to know more about the Super Bowl champion Ravens.
Football fans will love Sports Illustrated Kids Big Book of Who: Football, which includes some astounding statistics and the stories behind them. Several favorite Ravens players make appearances in this fun read. Kids can flip through the pages to find out more about the most amazing accomplishments of their favorite players. With plenty of pictures and informative and entertaining notes, this appealing and fun book reads like a magazine. Sports trivia fans won’t want to miss it.
Highlight Reel: The Top Plays in Super Bowl History by K. C. Kelley brings readers the most exciting Super Bowl plays of all time. This book is filled with pictures of the action and fun facts from Super Bowl history. Ravens fans will be pleased to see that Jacoby Jones’ record-breaking kickoff return from Super Bowl XLVII makes the cut in this engaging book for kids.
You have your backpack, freshly sharpened pencils, shiny new crayons and all the other items on the school supply list. But are you really ready for the first day of school? That’s what Patrick is worried about in Monstergarten by Daniel J. Mahoney. A first-grader told him that he had to be scary for his first day of monstergarten. Teaming up with his friend Kevin, Patrick practices making scary faces, his fearsome roars and showing his claws. But even after all his practice, Patrick is worried that he will not be scary enough. Fortunately, his monster mommy gives him the best advice – just be yourself. Children will be able to relate to Patrick in this brightly illustrated picture book.
Sometimes it is hard to just be yourself, especially someone else is telling you what they think is best. That’s what Penelope, a hippo, faces in You’re Wearing That to School?! by Lynn Plourde. Tiny, a mouse, means well and is trying the help his eccentric best friend Penelope fit in for her first day of school. From what to wear to what to bring to show-and-tell, Tiny wants to make sure that Penelope’s first day will be a success. Will Penelope heed Tiny’s advice? Or will she stay true to herself and prove that being unique is the best way to have a successful first day of school? Parents will also enjoy sharing with their kids the “Tips for a Hippo Happy First Day of School” that can be found at the end of the book.
Nearly every small child has a special stuffed animal, and two recent picture books take a look at these imaginative friendships. In No Fits, Nilson!, written and illustrated by Zachariah OHora, the title character is depicted as a towering blue gorilla who dwarfs his constant companion, a young girl named Amelia. With his black porkpie hat, tennis shoes and collection of six wristwatches, Nilson exudes cool, although he is prone to temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way. Throughout the story, Amelia must remind him to stay calm. Acrylic paintings in a muted pastel palette done on printmaking paper lend a retro quality to this gentle, sweet book that speaks to patience, sharing and working past minor setbacks.
Paul Schmid’s Oliver and His Alligator takes a look at a small boy’s apprehensions about the first day of school. Pastel pencils combine with soft digital colors to bring to life tousle-haired Oliver and his alligator, whom he brings to class “in case things got rough.” And when Oliver feels immediately shy and unsure, with a “munch, munch!” his alligator swallows a woman who greets him, and then his classmates in quick succession. Children will enjoy the humor of the situation, possibly wishing they had an alligator of their own to vanquish anxiety. But Oliver soon comes around to thinking that he may be missing out on something by sitting quietly by himself. Oliver and His Alligator makes for a welcome addition to the canon of books that address first day jitters.
Clever photography and appealing foot facts make Best Foot Forward: Exploring Feet, Flippers, and Claws, by German author Ingo Arndt, a pleasure to read. Using the structure of a two-page spread close-up of an animal foot and the question “Whose foot is this?, the answer appears on the next page along with other animals’ feet that have similar purposes or capabilities. Some of the categories include feet that are best suited to digging (tortoises), climbing (chimpanzees) and swimming (seals). Facts about each of the featured appendages are included to whet the interest of young readers to further explore the lives of the animal.
The close-up photography of the feet is the most fascinating aspect of the book. Whether it be counting the individual tortoise scales and claws, or seeing a mole foot up close, many of these are feet that people rarely notice. The more commonly seen webbed feet of ducks and gripping toes of a gecko are enlarged to see all the detail that make those feet perfect for the animals’ habitats. The most amazing foot featured is that of the kangaroo. Modified for jumping, this long, spring-loaded lever is a sight to behold when shown out of context. This book encourages animal-lovers to look beyond faces and other more obvious features to examine all facets of the creatures who share our environment. A final whimsy is the author’s biography photo – of his foot!
Sugar is a spunky 10-year-old living on the Wills’ River Road Plantation in Reconstruction Mississippi. She is named after the cane she toils in and despises. Her father was sold when she was a baby, and her mother died two years earlier after years of brutal labor finally took its toll. It is 1870, and while slavery has been abolished for five years, questions and economic concerns remain for these freed men, women and children. Coretta Scott King Honor Winner Jewell Parker Rhodes brings this tenuous time to life in Sugar.
The Beales, fellow sugar workers, have become her surrogate grandparents, and the other workers are protective of Sugar as the only child in their midst, yet barely tolerant of her rambunctious ways. As the community dwindles in number, Mr. Wills, the owner, needs more help and brings laborers in from China which initially concerns Sugar and her friends. But Sugar is quickly intrigued by these men and longs to make new friends from a foreign land outside of River Road.
As Sugar develops friendships with Billy Wills, the owner’s son, and the Chinese workers, she is exposed to worlds far different from her own. Billy lives a life of luxury, but is just a boy looking for adventures and a friend in Sugar. The Chinese men work hard but also share their traditional tales, food and toys. Rhodes deftly describes all of Sugar’s sensory experiences, while offering a realistic portrait of her hard realities and the unique cross-cultural community created for a time on this Mississippi plantation. Sugar is a most appealing and memorable heroine who manages to muster enough courage to step away from the only world she’s ever known in an effort to live her mother’s dying words of: Do. See. Feel.
Most people count sheep to fall asleep. Dani counts happy thoughts. My Happy Life by Rose Lagercrantz tells the tale of a little girl just starting school as she deals with first day of school jitters, making friends, losing friends, getting hurt, hurting others and all the other ups and downs in the life of a child.
Dani is a wonderfully realistic character who demonstrates resilience in the face of sadness. She is both excited and nervous about the first day of school, but she soldiers on and starts to have fun. Quickly making a best friend in Ella, Dani is happier than ever. Disaster strikes when Dani learns that Ella is moving away. Her sadness is heartbreaking. After a few rough days, and a few missteps, Dani slowly finds ways to be happy again.
Manageable chapters with limited text and plenty of delightful illustrations by award winning illustrator Eva Eriksson, make this book excellent for beginning readers. Through the combination of words and illustration, Lagercrantz and Eriksson perfectly capture the essence of a little girl’s life. My Happy Life is a very sweet, honest story suitable for both independent reading and reading aloud. This charming story is refreshingly free from “cuteness” and serves as a great example for children in how to handle hard knocks.