The Wild Robot

posted by: July 25, 2016 - 7:00am

The Wild RobotThe Wild Robot is Peter Brown’s first work for middle-grade readers, and this notable picture book author and illustrator has given us a delightful story that is sure to become a classic.

 

A hurricane rages offshore, and somewhere at sea a vessel containing hundreds of identical crates sinks. Its cargo is mostly lost beneath the waves. A handful of crates are destroyed by waves smashing them into the rocky island cliff. One solitary crate is washed up onto the cliff’s edge so forcefully it breaks apart, and miraculously the robot inside is unharmed.

 

A curious gang of sea otters activates the ROZZUM unit 7134, and a robot called Roz wakes for the first time to finds herself marooned on an island.

 

Now, Roz must struggle to survive in this wild place. Unsurprisingly, the animals are terrified of this strange monster in their midst. They avoid her and attack her until she hides away. She certainly isn’t programmed for survival, but she is programmed to learn. Disguised as a rock, Roz observes the world around her. She sits patiently and watches tadpoles turning to frogs, mushrooms magically appearing, foxes hunting hares, ocean waves crashing against the coast. She begins to learn the languages of the creatures on the island.

 

By accident, Roz finds herself caring for a tiny gosling. As she becomes this little bird’s mother, she finds a place in the animal community. She must rely on older geese to help teach her how to take care of her gosling, and the beavers to build her a suitable house for the two of them. The animals on the island learn that Roz is kind and happy to help her neighbors, and a new kind of community is formed.

 

This peace can’t last though. Like the other animals, Roz is subject to the changing seasons. She has to find a way to endure conditions robots weren’t built for. Also, the manufacturers who created Roz are searching for every last robot they lost.

 

This wonderful book has everything readers could ask for — an action-packed plot as well as heartwarming characters readers won’t soon forget. While Brown does offer up a very accessible book for young readers, there are also some weighty themes such as motherhood, environmental concerns and the question of what it is to be human, making it a great book for families to share.

 

If you enjoy this title, be sure to check out Pax by Sara Pennypacker.


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Wishing Day

posted by: July 18, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Wishing DayIn Willow Hill, on the third night of the third month after a girl’s 13th birthday, she makes three wishes: an impossible wish, a wish she can make come true herself and the deepest wish of her secret heart in Lauren Myracle’s new children’s book Wishing Day.

 

Natasha Blok isn’t sure that she believes in magic (even though it’s rumored that the women in her family have more than most), but on her Wishing Day she dutifully hikes up Willow Hill to make her three wishes under the ancient willow tree. Should she wish for a kiss from the cutest boy in school or would that be a waste of a wish? Should she wish for her mother to come back? But if her mother’s dead, would she come back as a zombie? And if she isn’t dead, where has she been for the past eight years?

 

After Natasha makes her wishes, she begins to receive encouraging notes from an unknown person. She hopes they’re coming from her crush, Benton, but she fears it could be the fantastically weird and mysterious Bird Lady that she keeps running into.
It’s too bad Natasha doesn’t have anyone around to help her figure things out. Her father is disengaged, her aunts hold tightly to their secrets and her sisters and best friend don’t quite get her.

 

Natasha’s life is big on mystery and short on answers in this first book of a planned trilogy. The sequels will presumably focus on the Wishing Days of Natasha’s two younger sisters, who were all born one year apart, and reveal the mystery of their mother’s disappearance.

 

Readers who enjoy magical realism or books by Ingrid Law and Rebecca Stead will want to check this one out.


 
 

Shadow Magic

posted by: June 23, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Shadow MagicIn the world of the Six Princes, each nation is ruled by a House that is adept in a particular kind of magic. For Lily of House Shadow, descended from necromancers and dark wizards, this magic — Shadow Magic — is forbidden to her, because she’s a girl. Her brother, the heir to the throne of Gehenna, the land of the undead, could learn magic, but she couldn’t.

 

When her family is assassinated, she becomes queen, a role she never was expected to fill. She’s also now the only one who can fulfill the marriage arrangement between House Shadow and House Solar, rulers of the Lumina, the land of light, who were previously House Shadow’s mortal enemy. Per the agreement, she will have to leave everything she loves and knows and move to her obnoxious fiancé’s homeland if she hopes to maintain the shaky peace between their Houses.

 

In another nation, the peasant boy Thorn is trying to find his father when he’s captured and sold as a slave to House Shadow’s executioner Tyburn. He faces a life far from everything he knows, trapped in service to the rulers of a world of shadow and darkness, where rumor says vampires roam freely and the dead are House Shadow’s army. He’s not exactly thrilled at the thought of becoming some monster’s lunch.

 

Meeting at Castle Gloom, these two unlikely allies will have to rely on each other to keep Lily in Gehenna, keep Thorn out of trouble, uncover a plot to overthrow House Shadow and stop a murderous necromancer from raising an army of zombies. Their allies include a captured prince from another nation and a giant bat, but their enemies may be a lot closer than they know.

 

The first in a series, Joshua Khan’s debut children’s book is full of macabre fantasy, daring adventure and a dash of political intrigue. Shadow Magic is an action-packed mystery with plenty of surprises. The illustrations are delightful, the characters are complex and the cliffhangers will keep readers guessing until the end. Any fan of the Percy Jackson or Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children series should check out Shadow Magic. Readers also won’t have to wait long for the second book; it’s already slated to be published next year.


 
 

Help Us! Great Warrior

posted by: May 31, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Help Us! Great WarriorThe biggest hero of our time, the only creature that can rescue this dimension from an invasion of demons, the Greatest Warrior of our world…is a bean-shaped little scamp. More monster than human, more lazy than adventuring and more gluttonous than anything, the protagonist of Help Us! Great Warrior is not exactly the picture that comes to mind when imagining a legendary hero. She’s a three-foot-tall orb that wears boots and a bow on her head. She wields a sword and shield when she feels like it, but mostly because one’s shaped like a heart and the other has a cute bunny for a handle. When called upon to save the world by Hadiyah, the legendary guardian and keeper of the hero registry, her response is an awe inspiring, “Nah.” Only when her villagers are threatened — and with the encouragement of her best friend Leo — does she finally drag herself into battle.

 

Quirky is an understatement when it comes to the adorable, whimsical, bizarre story of Help Us! Great Warrior. It’s artistically bright and bouncy, with soft and appealing characters that make an instant and lasting impact as you enjoy each page. The humor hinges on the bizarre and unexpected, reminding readers not only visually but story-wise of other children’s epics like Adventure Time. Prepare to be enchanted by Great Warrior and her journey. She’s especially great for kids and especially inspiring for young girls, but a delight to all ages.


 
 

A Few Unbearably Entertaining Picture Books

posted by: May 2, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Shh! Bears SleepingCover art for A Beginner's Guide to Bear SpottingCover art for Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World's Most Famous BearAfter a long and snowy winter, springtime is here...and so are the bears! If you like your picture books entertaining and educational, be sure to check out these three new books.

 

Shh! Bears Sleeping written by David Martin with pictures by Steve Johnson and Lou Fancher opens with a mama bear and her two cubs awakening at the beginning of spring, and then follows the three American black bears through the year, all the way to the next winter when the bears again pile in their den to sleep. The oil painting illustrations depicting scenes throughout the four seasons are beautifully done, and readers will enjoy the short, fun rhyming text as well as the additional facts presented in a short section at the end.

 

In A Beginner’s Guide to Bear Spotting by Michelle Robinson and illustrated by David Roberts, the narrator guides you through a walk in the woods where you are lucky enough to encounter both a black bear and a brown bear. The narrator talks you through the encounter and explains a few differences between them. While the book is humorous, it is careful to let young readers know that the only bears you should snuggle are of the stuffed variety. The illustrations are gorgeous, quirky and sure to bring laughs.

 

Finding Winnie: The True Story of the World’s Most Famous Bear by Lindsay Mattick and illustrated by Sophie Blackall tells the fascinating story behind the namesake of Winnie-the-Pooh. In 1914, a veterinarian and solider named Captain Harry Colebourn bought a bear cub for $20 at a train station. The cub traveled across the Atlantic Ocean with the Second Canadian Infantry Brigade and became their mascot and companion as they trained in England. Named Winnipeg in honor of Colebourn’s hometown, the bear found a permanent home at the London Zoo when the soldiers shipped to France. Author Mattick is the great-granddaughter of Colebourn and frames the tale as a bedtime story to her young son, Cole. The story is fascinating, and the connection to A. A. Milne’s famous bear adds extra interest.


 
 

More National Poetry Month Books for Kids

posted by: April 28, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Guess Who, HaikuCover art for A Spectacular Selection of Sea CrittersReading poems out loud is a great way for children to learn the auditory aspects of English, such as rhyme, meter, assonance and alliteration. These colorful books for children add visual enrichment to poetry and are great picks for this year’s National Poetry Month.

 

Guess Who, Haiku by Deanna Caswell and Bob Shea is filled with animal-themed haikus and brightly illustrated pictures. Each haiku is from a different animal with simple clues as to what that animal might be. The first animal comes from a farm and uses “muffled mooing” to announce a “fresh pail of milk.” Turn the page and you find that the haiku does in fact come from a cow! The book continues in this pattern, with haiku clues on one page and the animal answer on the next, making a fun guessing game for kids reading the book. The book has a note from the author explaining that traditional Japanese haikus have an element of play, making this guessing game a lesson in cultural context as well as poetic style.

 

Betsy Franco and Michael Wertz’s A Spectacular Selection of Sea Critters is another book of poems about animals, but these animals are exclusively from the sea. This book also features a different animal on each page, but makes use of typography and a catchy blue, orange and white ocean-themed color scheme to capture the reader’s attention. The rhyming patterns vary depending on the animal. Sea turtles get a regal ode, words to describe a jellyfish curve around the page and a pair of needlefish intersect at the letter “e” for a crossword puzzle-style word cloud of adjectives. There are well-known styles of poems utilized as well, from a lion-fish haiku to a coral-reef acrostic. The end of the book includes further resources about sea creatures and aquatic wildlife, making this book a colorful compendium of science, art and literature.


 
 

Far from Fair

posted by: April 13, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Far from FairLife is Far from Fair for Odette Zyskowski in Elana K. Arnold’s new novel. If it had been put to a vote, Odette would not have elected to sell her family home, move into an ugly RV and share one cell phone with her quarreling parents and volatile younger brother. But her father didn’t ask for Odette’s opinion before quitting his job and uprooting the family, and the list of unfair occurrences in her life has begun to pile up at a rapid pace as they travel to Grandma Sissy’s home. However, none of the problems and predicaments along the way compares to the unfairness Odette discovers when they arrive.

 

When Odette and Grandma Sissy are discussing how powerless Odette feels during this time of upheaval, Grandma Sissy reveals what Odette calls a “grownup truth” — those things grownups know to be true, but don’t typically share: Sometimes you are powerless. Sometimes, bad things happen and we can't stop them. This book contains many such grownup truths, but Arnold does not preach to or talk down to her readers. Hard subjects are confronted gently but directly.

 

The settings, all the way from suburban California to Washington’s Orcas Island, as well as the difficulties of living in an RV, are so superbly described it may leave you wondering if the author herself ever embarked on such a road trip. The book does indeed have true life beginnings: After Arnold’s husband was laid off, they sold their home and belongings and hit the open road. Meanwhile, Arnold pursued her dream of being a writer. Far from Fair is her sixth novel for teen and young readers.

 

For more well-written children’s fiction that confronts issues of family life and illness, check out So B. It by Sarah Weeks and Kira-Kira by Cynthia Kadohata.

 


 
 

Happy 100th Birthday Beverly Cleary

posted by: April 12, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Henry HugginsCover art for Beezus and RamonaWas Ramona Quimby one of your best friends? Did you want a mouse on a motorcycle? Then you enjoyed the imaginative and timeless worlds created by Beverly Cleary. Cleary’s wonderful books have impacted generations of readers and, today, as she celebrates her 100th birthday, we pay homage to a standard bearer of children’s literature.

 

Cleary noted that when she a child in the 1920s and as a young librarian, almost all of the children’s books she came across were about kids in England. Determined to offer children something more relatable, she put pen to paper with a simple writing style infused with humor and a story based on common human experiences. Her first book, Henry Huggins, published in 1950, was about a boy, his dog and their friends, all of whom lived on Klickitat Street in Portland, a street in Cleary’s childhood neighborhood. According to Cleary, Henry Huggins and the other child characters in the book were based on children she grew up with and those who attended story time at her library. She would go on to write several more books about Henry Huggins and his friends, including the Quimby sisters, who would be featured in their own books, the first of which, Beezus and Ramona, was published in 1955.

 

Popular with children, she was also a favorite with critics who recognized her skill and talent with numerous awards, including the National Book Award, the Newbery Medal and the National Medal of Arts.  Cleary's books have been published in 20 different languages, and 91 million copies of her books have been sold worldwide since 1950. Indeed, her popularity is just as strong in Baltimore County with all of her titles in all formats circulating almost 4,000 times this year alone! A few weeks ago, Cleary sat with The Today Show for an interview where she was asked about this milestone and her career and she said she’s proudest of the simple fact that "children love my books."


 
 

Punk Skunks

posted by: March 31, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for Punk SkunksChances are you've never heard of the Punk Skunks. Despite their unique sound and emphasis on positive themes such as friendship, they remain largely ignored by the music industry, perhaps because they are skunks. But all of that’s about to change thanks to the new picture book Punk Skunks by the husband and wife team of Trisha Speed Shaskan and Stephen Shaskan.

 

Kit and Buzz were two BSFs (best skunks forever) who loved skateboarding, riding bikes, spray painting (literally spraying smelly pictures with their tails) and hanging out at their favorite club, ABCDs. But what they liked to do most of all was rock out. They bonded over their love of great punk bands such as the Ratmoans, the DescendAnts and Shrewsie Shrew, and gained a cult following thanks to their catchy songs “We’re Buzz and Kit” and “BSF.” But all of that was about to change.

 

One day while jamming at their practice space, the two musical geniuses clashed. Kit wanted to sing a song about skating and Buzz wanted to sing a song about painting. The creative differences were irreconcilable, and the Punk Skunks were no more. But was this really the end? Will this dynamic duo go the way of Lennon and McCartney, Jones and Strummer, Adam and his Ants? You’ll have to read to find out!

 

Even if you aren’t familiar with the Punk Skunks, this playful homage to the days of Chuck Taylors and safety pins has enough charm to make superfans of even the most jaded punks. And you can get to know these creative critters even better through this article at The Little Crooked Cottage where they were recently interviewed by a pig.


 
 

Pax

posted by: March 24, 2016 - 7:00am

Cover art for PaxPax, a new book by award-winning author Sara Pennypacker, will linger with readers long after they finish the final page. The story is told alternately by a young orphaned fox named Pax, and Peter, the boy who saved him. Peter found Pax shortly after his own mother died, and his father grudgingly let him keep the fox “for now.”

 

“For now” turned into five years. Pax becomes Peter’s family since his father is usually gone and is emotionally distant even when he is home. Now war threatens their home, and Peter’s father announces he is leaving to join the fight. Peter must stay with his formidable grandfather, a man who doesn’t approve of tame foxes. Peter is forced to abandon the now-domesticated Pax who lives off kibble, in the wilderness. The moment the boy leaves his fox behind, he knows he has made a terrible mistake.

 

While stories about lost pets are familiar to us, this one is unique. The journey that Pax and Peter take in order to find each other tests both, and they meet new characters who change them and us forever. As they come to understand difficult truths about the world, so do readers.

 

Pennypacker doesn’t offer a specific setting, just a land being destroyed by war. The conflict, which is never really clearly explained to readers either, affects not only the people, but also the land and the creatures. The story isn’t a simple protest against war, but a plea for people to be honest about the real price of conflict.

 

Pennypacker’s writing is beautiful. With clarity and compassion one doesn’t often find in children’s books, she addresses complicated themes like loneliness, love and the cost of war.

 

The art for this book is created by Caldecott award-winning illustrator Jon Klassen and perfectly matches the story in its simple, poignant style.

 

Pax is great for readers who enjoyed Sheila Burnford’s classic The Incredible Journey. Fans of these great animal stories will also enjoy Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt.


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