What would your dream house look like? If you’re Andy and Terry, you live in The 13-Story Treehouse, a marvel of backyard architecture with limitless possibilities for fun. Besides the usual bedrooms, kitchen and bathrooms, it’s got a game room, a theater, a bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool, a tank full of man-eating sharks, and for good measure, a secret underground laboratory. In other words, paradise. Penned by perennial favorite Andy Griffiths and liberally illustrated by his usual partner-in-laughs Terry Denton, this fast-paced slapstick book for middle graders marks the beginning of a hysterical new series.
The author and illustrator have made themselves the protagonists of the beyond-silly story. The action begins when Terry inexplicably paints the neighbor’s cat with yellow paint and drops it over the edge of the deck. The feline sprouts wings and flies off, now transformed into a “catnary.” Meanwhile, the pair has missed the deadline to send a new book to their publisher, Mr. Big Nose. How will they come up with something overnight, especially when Andy insists on beginning the story “Once UPOM a time”?
Middle grade readers, particularly boys, will find the combination of wacky plotlines and simple black and white cartoon drawings irresistible. Give The 13-Story Treehouse to fans of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series and Dan Gutman’s My Weird School First Chapter books.
Blue Balliett has created an unforgettable character in Early Pearl, the eleven-year-old heroine of Hold Fast. Early’s life is happy despite a lack of money. Her parents, Dashiell and Summer, and her four-year-old brother Jubiliation form a tight-knit family that enjoys reading, words, and puzzles. Dash works as a shelver in the Chicago Public Library with a dream of one day becoming a librarian. Sum stays at home to take care of Jubie, but once he starts school, she wants to work with kids who need help. They all long for a home of their own someday, but until then are content in their cozy apartment on Chicago’s South Side.
All that changes when Dash suddenly vanishes and the Pearl family is shattered. Forced to retreat to a shelter, Sum grows depressed, Jubie sick, and Early is anxious and determined to find out the truth about her father. Early becomes desperate to hold her family together and find her father. She realizes that he hasn’t left without a trace, and with the help of her dad’s former teacher, tracks down the patterns and rhythms of Dash’s days prior to his disappearance.
Early is a wise and spunky young girl; Balliett infuses the story with the poetry and spirit of Langston Hughes, as evidenced by the book’s title, which is from his poem "Dreams". This is also an interesting glimpse into life as a shelter kid and offers an honest look at homelessness. The mystery will keep readers engaged, especially with the public library at the center of an international crime ring. Enjoy getting to know this most special Pearl family, which is blissfully reunited despite great obstacles, thanks to the persistently clever Early who followed her heart and held fast to her dreams.
Blending engaging, energetic illustrations with an accessible plot and appealing characters, acclaimed cartoonist Michael Fry offers a refreshing new take on some timeless issues in middle school in The Odd Squad: Bully Bait. Nick has got to be THE shortest twelve-year old on the planet. Well, at least the shortest in Emily Dickinson Middle School. Being short isn’t always bad...at least when the school bully Roy stuffs Nick in his locker, it’s a roomy fit. But then being short isn’t Nick’s only problem.
Nick’s mom and dad have split up. Roy regularly terrorizes him at school. He doesn’t really fit in anywhere, not even with the Unsociables. Worst of all, Becky, his would-be girlfriend has begun hanging out with the abominable Roy! Not everything is rotten though, like Mr. Dupree, the seriously weird janitor who quotes Shakespeare and tells strange truths disguised as lies. Then there’s his mom and Memaw who love him. Best of all, Nick has a cool virtual alter-ego, Max. Max gets to torment Roy through texts and is Becky’s virtual BFF. Nick’s school counselor, Dr. Daniels, has had enough of the bullying. She’s recruited Nick and two other misfits, Molly and Karl to join the lamest club ever - Safety Patrol. Molly, the tallest girl in school, and Karl, the weirdest, aren’t prime friend material as far as Nick is concerned. They have a common cause, though, and together the three devise a plan to stand up to Roy. In the process, Nick learns some surprising information about Roy – and about himself.
Fry takes on a potentially problematic combination of delicate issues in Bully Bait, including both physical and virtual bullying, "peer allergies", challenging family situations and more. What he delivers is a story that is humorous and light, without sacrificing realism or a powerful underlying message. Look for the second installment in The Odd Squad series in September.
In One Gorilla: A Counting Book, illustrator Anthony Browne takes the reader through a bevy of primates. A one-time Children’s Laureate of the United Kingdom, Browne draws on his lifelong fascination with gorillas and apes of all sizes. Using his signature strokes and employing the technique of varying dry and wet brushes, each page becomes a lifelike, head-on portrait of the featured creatures. Generous white space keeps the focus on the intense, breathtaking images of monkeys, chimps, and orangutans, among others. Browne reminds us of our own relationship to this group of animals with an arresting self-portrait, followed by a double-paged spread of diverse humans: “All primates. All one family.”
Two-time Caldecott medalist Chris Raschka takes a familiar childhood rite of passage and infuses it with his trademark watercolors in Everyone Can Learn to Ride a Bicycle. Raschka has said that when formulating ideas for his books, he is very influenced by events that took place in his own childhood. In this case, a young girl and her father first go to choose a bike. Then, she haltingly goes through the stages of becoming a proficient rider, helped along with words of encouragement. Readers are urged on by the fluid illustrations that mimic the forward energy of a bike in motion. A final parenthetical grace note after she has finally mastered the skill will bring a smile to every adult reader's face.
Pluto’s Secret, an Icy World’s Tale of Discovery by Margaret A. Weitekamp with David DeVorkin lets the cat out of the bag. Dancing around with its moon and other small worlds on the outer edges of the solar system, it watches as the people on Earth try to figure it out. Discovered in 1930 after years of searching, astronomers thought they had found the ninth planet around the sun. Pluto plays in its orbit, laughing at the astronomers. As more powerful telescopes are developed, scientists realize that Pluto is not only different than the other planets; it’s also not alone in its orbit. In 2006, this discovery led astronomers to vote on a definition of a planet, something which had never been done before. Pluto’s secret is revealed. It is not a planet, but the "first example of something new" --and it’s not the only one. Scientists have discovered an entire band of icy worlds around the sun (called the Kuiper Belt), as well as around other stars. As technology evolves, so does our ability to learn more about the Universe.
This children’s book, put out in association with the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, does an extraordinary job of piquing the reader’s interest in the solar system. Children will enjoy learning that an 11-year-old girl suggested the name for Pluto. Coupled with Diane Kidd’s charming illustrations, the story will entertain readers of all ages. Facts and photographs follow the story and gives those interested more resources. In 2006 NASA launched the New Horizons spacecraft to conduct a flyby study of Pluto and its moon, Charon. It’s halfway there, and should reach Pluto in 2015. Follow its progress here!
Gingersnap, by Patricia Reilly Giff, introduces Jayna and her brother, Rob, who are living in upstate New York in 1944. Their parents were killed in a car accident, and Rob, a Navy man, was able to remove Jayna from foster care to create their little family. Both are wonderful cooks, with Jayna specializing in soups, and they dream of owning a restaurant of their own one day.
But World War II is still raging in the Pacific and Rob gets called to duty, leaving Jayna in the care of their landlady, Celine. Between Celine’s falling hairpieces and constant harping on good manners, Jayna can’t imagine a worse guardian. When a telegram arrives informing her that Rob’s ship has sunk and he is missing, a distraught Jayna decides to run away. She needs to get to Brooklyn to find a woman named Elise, who may just be her grandmother. Elise operates a bakery named Gingersnap--which is coincidentally Jayna’s nickname. Jayna packs her bag, an old recipe book, and her turtle named Theresa. She is guided on the journey by the helping hand of a partially visible girl ghost who first appeared when Rob shipped out.
Jayna meets Elise and becomes part of the fabric of her Brooklyn neighborhood. As Jayna gets to know Elise, she longs for this wonderful, gentle woman to be her grandmother. The two work together and Jayna’s soups become a popular fixture at the bakery. These simple, yet yummy sounding soup recipes appear between each chapter and reflect Jayna’s mood and situation. Jayna’s voice is real and while the setting is historical, the separation of families and feelings of displacement are easily understood today. As Jayna struggles to maintain hope for her brother and find a family, readers rooting for this spirited little girl will be delighted with the last recipe in the book - Welcome Home Soup.
Heading out on a lifetime of adventures is considered in two new books for young readers. Flight 1-2-3, written and illustrated by Maria van Lieshout, is an ultra-clear counting book featuring the people and activities found at an airport. Intentionally using a typeface that is used in airport signage worldwide, the sleek, digitally-created images allow for first-time flyers to experience this new setting calmly and without fear. Perfect as an introduction to this often unfamiliar place, it covers elevators, security agents, and the gates, along with other concepts that a young child will encounter in the terminal and concourses.
Barbara Kerley’s The World is Waiting for You, full of incredible National Geographic photos, is truly a young explorer’s dream. This photo essay encourages the young and young-at-heart to follow whatever path they might choose. While many books focus on inner journeys, this is one that strongly pushes for literal treks. The text presses the reader to tackle apathy and laziness, and push forward to “climb”, “soar”, or even “poke around for a while”. Kerley, author of other National Geographic titles such as One World, One Day and A Cool Drink of Water, is a former Peace Corps volunteer whose belief in sharing the world with kids shines through. Photo credits and inspirational quotes complete the book, which will likely inspire young readers to see the featured places themselves.
The Critter Club is a newly published series for the brand new First Chapter book reader. The first in the series, Amy and the Missing Puppy, by Callie Barkley, introduces four friends (Amy, Ellie, Liz and Marion) at their weekly sleepover party just before spring break. While her three friends have cool plans over the vacation week, Amy is left to hang out in her mother’s animal clinic reading Nancy Drew books. When a neighbor’s puppy goes missing, Amy gets inspiration from the classic girl sleuth she's reading and investigates on her own. Luckily, her three friends’ plans are altered so they can assist Amy with her case. Barkley uses simple yet descriptive language to engage the reader and make the story interesting, but not too complicated. With adorable illustrations by Marsha Riti and big, simple text, (as well as charming stories about friendship and animals), The Critter Club series is a great starter series for the young reader. Ellie’s story is next in All About Ellie.
Introducing a new line of fairy books told from the human side! Disney’s Never Girls series transports four girls to Pixie Hollow. In certain circumstances, when Never Land gets too close to our world and at just the right time, "Clumsies" (as the fairies like to call humans) can visit Never Land. In a Blink, by Kiki Thorpe, is the first title in the series. Kate, Lainey and Mia are playing soccer in the backyard, when a blink-talent fairy pops into the garden. Mia’s little sister Gabby still believes in fairies, so when Prilla blinks in front of her, Gabby catches hold and all four girls are plopped into Pixie Hollow. The girls meet Tinker Bell and the other Disney fairies as they enlist their help to get back home. Fans of the Disney Fairies series will love this extension of the series, and it’s perfect for readers who devoured Daisy Meadows’ Rainbow Magic fairy books.
In Goldilocks and Just One Bear, a bear lost in the big city stumbles into the apartment of an absent human family. Confused, hungry, and tired, he samples three types of “porridge” (including a bowl of cat food – “too crunchy”), sits on three “chairs” (one of which is a cactus), and sleeps in three beds (he finds the bubble bath “too frothy”). When the family returns, the mama human and the bear are in for a big surprise – and so is every reader with the great good fortune to read this charming book. Leigh Hodgkinson’s sketchy, retro-modern illustrations pack every page with humorous detail and covetable interior design.
Not all Goldilocks stories are guaranteed to have a happy ending. In Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs, Mo Willems sets up a more ominous premise. As the book begins, Mama Dinosaur rubs her hands together in nefarious fashion: "I SURE HOPE NO INNOCENT LITTLE SUCCULENT CHILD HAPPENS BY OUR UNLOCKED HOME WHILE WE ARE… uhhh… SOMEPLACE ELSE!" she hollers, preparatory to tiptoeing out of the house to hide in the nearby bushes with toothy Papa Dinosaur and a dinosaur visiting from Norway. The reader’s brain automatically supplies the classic version of the Goldilocks tale, so that the two stories, old and new, play simultaneously like melody and harmony.
Where is your liver? What does the larynx do? Are molars made from moles? If we have 12 billion brain cells, how come we still step in puddles so often? Human anatomy and physiology is fast and funny and goofy and gross in What Body Part is That? Nonfiction with lots of humor is not only fun to read, but may cause our brain to absorb facts better. Research has shown “bizarre elaboration” to have a significant positive effect on retention, especially of vocabulary. Let’s let author Andy Griffiths demonstrate bizarre elaboration: “Your esophagus is the tube that food travels through in order to get to your stomach. Other easier-to-pronounce names for the esophagus are food funnel, nutrient hose, provisions pipe, chow spout, hamburger highway, taco tunnel, and sausage chute.”
Each two-page spread features a couple of paragraphs of text on a body part, a fun fact sidebar, and a full-page illustration. Special features include “How to Walk in 15 Easy Steps,” “Amazing Things People Can Do with Their Bodies,” and “Body Part and Body Part-Related Superheroes” (including Mucusgirl, Spleenboy, and Bladderwoman – don’t ask!) This book, by the author of such laugh classics as The Cat on the Mat is Flat and The Big Fat Cow that Goes Kapow, claims to be “99.9% fact free,” but even that statement is not entirely accurate – readers will remember lots about the body once they’ve read this profusely illustrated, super-silly fun-fest.