Araminta (Minty) Fresh lives in the familiar setting of Catonsville in The Secret Tree by Natalie Standiford. Growing up in a close-knit neighborhood with her best friend Paz on the same block, she is happy and comfortable with her friends, family, and roller derby. But the summer before middle school is a season for change, not the least of which is Paz’s apparent desire to befriend some cool girls.
When she spots a flash in the woods and chases it, Minty not only finds a new friend in Raymond, but also stumbles across the Secret Tree. The elm has a hollow trunk in which Raymond and Minty find secrets written on slips of paper. The notes hold confidences which range from crushes, to being held back a grade, to placing a curse on an enemy! Seems like her neighborhood is full of secrets and mysteries and Minty and Raymond decide to start finding some answers.
But this detecting duo has secrets of their own, and as they investigate friends and neighbors they must each deal with their own anxieties. Minty is a delightfully relatable yet quirky heroine with the right touch of tween snark to make her real. In the end, this story of changing friendships and pesky sibling relationships is about growing up and realizing that everyone has insecurities. Filled with the warmth and freedom of summer and a neighborhood full of unique characters, this imaginative coming-of-age story has an old-fashioned charm which will have wide appeal.
Be sure to look for Natalie at the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday, September 29th at 5:30, where she’ll be appearing as a member of the panel, "Baltimore Bred", with fellow Baltimore natives Adam Gidwitz, Laurel Snyder, C. Alexander London, and Laura Resau to talk about how growing up in Baltimore influenced their work.
In A Mutiny in Time, Book One of The Infinity Ring series, James Dashner delivers a strong opening to the latest multi-platform, clue-finding series for kids. Best friends Dak and Sera are unusual kids. Dak is a self-professed history nerd (and cheese addict), while Sera’s fondness for quantum physics is incalculable. So when the best friends discover a time travel device--the Infinity Ring--in a secret lab belonging to Dak’s parents, they’re seriously excited.
They’re not the only ones anxious to get their hands on the Infinity Ring though, and soon the kids are recruited by the Hystorians, a secret society formed by Aristotle and maintained over generations and many centuries. From the Hystorians, Dak and Sera learn that there have been a number of Great Breaks in history--rifts in reality--that will eventually lead to the world’s destruction! The only way to save the world is to use the Infinity Ring to go back in time and mend each rift.
Dak and Sera agree to help the Hystorians, in exchange for help in finding Dak’s parents, who were lost in time during a test run of the Infinity Ring. Joined by Riq, an older boy and youngest member of the Hystorians, Dak and Sera travel to Spain in 1492 to stop a mutiny on Columbus’ fateful voyage. There are dangers though; for as long as the Hystorians society has existed, so too has another society, the SQ, which has benefited from the rifts in reality and will stop at nothing to keep the Great Breaks from being mended. For every Hystorian Guide they find in each era, they must also elude the SQ’s Time Wardens who seek to stop them.
The fun doesn’t end with the fast paced first adventure in the series. After completing A Mutiny in Time, readers are invited to play the game online. The reader becomes a player and can solve puzzles, navigate wormholes, and explore cities of the past while receiving a dash of real history with their entertainment. Fans of The 39 Clues series now have a new series to enjoy.
Young readers who fondly remember fairy tales will fall in love with two new titles that add a modern spin on classic childhood favorites.
In Fairest of All by Sarah Mlynowski, ten year old Abby and her younger brother Jonah discover an antique mirror in their new house. The magical mirror sends them back into the Snow White fairy tale and the duo is responsible for tangling this tale so that there might not be a happily ever after. Mlynowski’s version is funny and contemporary with enough changes to spice things up. Three of the seven dwarfs are women and one has pink hair! Comical hijinks result as the two kids try to fix what they botched, resulting in a hysterical read. The swift pace combined with Abby's quick wit and a real sibling relationship will grab readers from page one. This is a wonderful start to the Whatever After series which promises future magical adventures behind the looking glass.
Wendy Mass also fractures a favored tale with Beauty and the Beast: the Only One Who Didn’t Run Away, the third entry in her popular Twice Upon a Time series. Beauty is a twelve year old dealing with self-esteem issues and a name which she thinks doesn’t reflect reality. Prince Riley is a gangly bagpipe player who ends up on the wrong end of a witch’s spell and suddenly starts growing fur and sharp nails. Both have superstar older siblings who outshine them in everything. Mass set her version of the story in a medieval kingdom, but her two protagonists are pleasantly modern and relatable. Told in alternating chapters by Beauty and the Prince/Beast, the pace of this quest story is quick and filled with adventure and romance.
Mr. Big: a Tale of Pond Life, the cover reads. But when one delves into it, the reader finds this graphic novel by Carol Dembicki and Matt Dembicki is so much more. It begins innocently in springtime as the pond comes to life. The authors show the inhabitants of the pond in a natural light, reminding the reader that life and death are regular parts of the pond ecology. Nighttime in the pond is illustrated using stunning artwork to describe the nocturnal inhabitants’ hierarchy. This simple lesson about life in a pond suddenly twists into a dark tale of revenge when Mr. Big, the resident snapping turtle, quite naturally eats two curious young fish that swim too close. Just another example of the cycle of life in the pond? Not this time. The mother of the young fish refuses to take this one lying down. She pulls together some other pond dwellers – the frogs, other turtles, even the ladybugs – and puts a hit out on Mr. Big. A murder of crows is up for the job, but do they have an ulterior motive? Soon there are ominous sightings of a monstrous fish that can walk on land and fly through the air!
Throughout the story, the authors weave together layers of drama and intrigue. The hypocrisy of the frogs as they blithely swallow insect after insect while condemning Mr. Big for eating other creatures; the danger a little mosquito can pose; and the damage done by the introduction of non-native animals to an ecosystem are all subtly imparted to the reader. The rebelling animals remain nameless, yet their thoughts and fears are imparted to the reader via thought bubbles and dialogue. Mr. Big, the only named character, is silent, yet the reader is left with the impression that for Mr. Big "It’s not personal, it’s business." Adults and older children alike will find something to enjoy in this nuanced graphic novel about the perils of messing with Mother Nature.
Join in the celebration of the life and work of Roald Dahl, the renowned author whose books have delighted children and adults alike for over 50 years.
Roald Dahl Day takes place on September 13 every year, but this year is even more special because 2012 marks the 30th anniversary of the publication of The BFG. In this novel, an orphan named Sophie is taken from her bed by a giant who takes her to Giant Country. The giant doesn’t want to harm Sophie because, as he explains, he is the world’s only friendly giant. He is the BFG—the Big Friendly Giant. Unlike other giants who eat “human beans,” the BFG collects good dreams to give to children. Sophie and the BFG band together to save humans from the other giants.
To learn more about Dahl’s extraordinary life, try Michael Rosen’s new children’s biography Fantastic Mr. Dahl. This book tells the story of how a boy from a Wales grew up to write beloved children’s books like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and Matilda. Rosen, who declares himself Dahl’s biggest fan, tells Dahl’s extraordinary life story with affection and humor.
If you would like to celebrate Roald Dahl Day tomorrow, read your favorite Roald Dahl book, or try one of the fun activities here!
Pass it On! by Marilyn Sadler recalls the classic children’s game known as 'Telephone' or 'Pass the Message'. Hilarity ensues when a message is misheard and passed from friend to friend with ridiculous results, and that’s just what happens when cow gets stuck in the fence. "Cow put a duck in a tent? Pass it on!" The silly combinations will have both children and adults chuckling as the animal friends continue to fracture the story.
The whimsical illustrations by Michael Slack make this story all the more fun. Brightly colored characters and scenes have a real retro look, with a Miró meets Fractured Fairy Tale feel. The clever story and artwork make this a book to look at again and again, and might inspire you to start a game of pass it on yourself!
Stan and Jan Berenstain’s long-lost manuscript Nothing Ever Happens at the South Pole is finally being published, and the behind-the-scenes story of this book may surprise you.
After their first book The Big Honey Hunt was published in 1962, Stan and Jan Berenstain were advised by their editor Theodor Seuss Geisel (Dr. Seuss) not to write another book featuring the bears. He told them that writing a series was a terrible idea and that there were simply too many children’s stories about bears already. The Berenstains took his advice and began work on a new book called Nothing Ever Happens at the South Pole. In this story, a penguin receives a blank book and sets out to find adventures to write about in his book. He daydreams about exciting things that could happen as he walks. Through the illustrations, readers see his wish coming true, but the penguin remains oblivious to the action in the background. At the close of his day, readers see the penguin make his first journal entry, “NOTHING HAPPENED HERE TODAY.”
By the time the Berenstains finished writing Nothing Ever Happens at the South Pole, word came back from the Random House sales staff that the The Big Honey Hunt was a hit. The Berenstains continued writing their famous Berenstain Bears series, and their second manuscript went into their files, where it remained unpublished ...until now.
Signed By: Zelda is a refreshingly humorous and clever mystery for kids. In it, author Kate Feiffer takes her readers along for a ride as eleven-year old neighbors Lucy Bertels and Nicky Gibson collaborate to solve the mystery of Grandma Zelda’s sudden disappearance. Lucy is a budding graphologist (handwriting expert extraordinaire), and the newest resident of a West 68th Street apartment building in New York. Nicky is Lucy’s overhead neighbor, a boy whose TOA (Time-Out Average) means he spends three days out of four in trouble with his dad. Nicky’s Grandma Zelda is an extraordinary lady who has had more adventures in her lifetime than most could imagine. Pigeon frequents the windowsills of each apartment and is a friend to all three. It is Pigeon who delivers a mysterious note that will unite Lucy and Nicky in the search for the elusive Zelda.
The addendums to the book are almost as much a pleasure to read as the story itself. Feiffer’s research into graphology and her interest in the characters she has so skillfully constructed is self-evident. In the addendums, she provides such unexpected treats as a handwriting quiz for children and the recipe for Grandma Zelda’s famous Zeldaberry pie. Recommended for middle grade readers, especially for those who enjoy mildly flawed characters and a dash magical realism. Readers who enjoy Signed By: Zelda may also find satisfaction with Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt or Horten’s Incredible Illusions by Lissa Evans.
Camden Yards is sparkling with Oriole Magic, and a new generation of fans is energized by the success of this season’s team. For young fans that can’t get enough baseball, there are several new series titles which offer plenty of action on the diamond.
The Topps League series by Kurtis Scaletta follows Chad, the new batboy for the minor league Pine City Porcupines. Chad wants to help the hapless team, but in Jinxed, the first in the series, he encounters nothing but trouble, including a jinxed superstar. These illustrated easy chapter books throw readers a magical curve ball since Chad can solve problems using information from his baseball cards. Plenty of detailed on-field action as well as inside-the-clubhouse glimpses will keep readers hooked.
Super-Sized Slugger by Cal Ripken is the second title from Baltimore’s Iron Man and Sun columnist Kevin Cowherd. Overweight thirteen year old Cody Parker moves to Baltimore, and the combination of his size and new kid status make him the prime target for teasing. He lives for baseball, but when he beats out the school’s number one bully for the starting third base position, Cody’s life gets even worse. Then the school is struck by a rash of thefts. With this mystery in need of solving and exciting baseball action as the team plays for the championship, this is a fast-paced page turner.
Ted & Me is the newest entry in the popular Baseball Card Adventure series by Dan Gutman featuring time traveling Joe "Stosh" Stochack. This time the FBI wants Stosh to travel back to 1941 to warn FDR of the attack on Pearl Harbor. But Stosh has another idea. Ted Williams was one of the greatest hitters of all times, despite losing five years of playing time to military service. What if there was no World War II? What if Stosh can actually prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor and convince Williams not to serve in the military? The time travel element combined with baseball anecdotes help create another perfect strike in this series.
Poor Claudette. In Jorge Aguirre's Giants Beware!, her peaceful life within the fortress of Mont Petit Pierre is just not nearly exciting enough. Being a tomboy, the daughter of the town blacksmith, she is rambunctious and loudmouthed and yearns for action. Like killing the giant rumored to live on the mountain outside of town. With her timid brother Gaston and her ladylike friend Marie, she blusters her way out of the fortress gate and into the Forest of Death, beyond which lies the Mad River, and then Giant’s Peak.
Can these three kids, armed with a wooden sword, Marie’s intelligence, Gaston’s fortitude, Claudette’s stinky feet, and a pug dog named Valiant, survive in the wilderness and defeat the giant? Of course they can, but not in the ways they might have expected. The adults in the story are distinguished by exaggerated or even buffoonish characteristics, but their actions are driven by realistic, largely generous motives.
The story strikes a fine balance between being action- and friendship-driven. The art is similarly well-balanced: Rafael Rosado’s ink drawings are strong and lively, with expressive characters and well-drawn landscapes. Digitally applied color is natural, bright, and nonintrusive. Fans of Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules books and Jeff Smith’s Bone series will snap this title up.