Fall down the rabbit hole and into a topsy-turvy world of nonsense, beauty and adventure in Tahereh Mafi’s Furthermore, a modern-day tribute to the classic Alice in Wonderland.
Alice Alexis Queensmeadow, about to turn 12 years old, has little to do aside from munching on tulips, watching the sun pour rainlight over her homeland of Ferenwood and practicing for the Surrender — an event where all Ferenwood children in their 12th year demonstrate their magical talents for the town elders and are subsequently assigned a special, secret task. Those things, and, of course, her missing father is on her mind. The last time anyone saw him, he was journeying outside of Ferenwood with nothing but the clothes on his back and a ruler in his pocket. Now two years later, his anguished family has all but given up on his return.
That is until Oliver, a not-so-friendly friend from Alice’s past, suddenly reappears with a proposition for her: If Alice will help him with his task, a dangerous mission that will lead them deep within the realm of Furthermore, he will tell her where her father is.
Desperate to be reunited with her father, Alice follows Oliver into Furthermore, a dangerous land full of rules, riddles and remarkable residents. The only question is: Will they survive it?
Tahereh Mafi, author of the teen romance trilogy Shatter Me, has once again delivered a unique reading experience. An interactive narrator, her beautiful, poetic writing makes for a touching, funny and truly satisfying read.
Sometimes the best way to tell a story is with no words at all, as Daniel Miyares has done with the picture book Float. This book uses imaginative panels to tell the story of a young boy, a paper boat and rainy day. We follow the boy and his boat on a grand adventure. Each seemingly simple picture perfectly captures the stormy weather and the boy’s thoughts and movements. Readers and aspiring readers will love this lovely little book, which includes instructions for making paper boats to occupy other adventurous souls on rainy afternoons.
A cardboard box is another fantastic vessel for great adventures, and this is where we begin in Sara O’Leary’s This Is Sadie. Sadie sails around the world before breakfast, but quietly “because old people need a lot of sleep.” She knows that adventure can be found in a book and has lived at the bottom of the sea and been the hero of every fairy tale. While she loves playing with friends in the pool, she is equally content chatting with birds at the top of a good climbing tree. This sweet story is accompanied by Julie Morstad’s charming illustrations which invite readers into Sadie’s enchanted world.
Nino has a dog that dives into the deepest water, climbs trees and dares to jump into the lap of a formidable great-grandmother, though he doesn’t really have a dog. The Dog That Nino Didn’t Have by Edward van de Vendel is a story about a boy who imagines a dog to keep him company while his dad is away traveling the world as a pilot. Nino’s dog tromps through woods next to him and comforts him when he misses his father. One day, a package arrives and Nino gets an actual dog. Though it isn’t quite the same as his imaginary dog, he learns to love his real dog. He also realizes he can still have his imaginary dog and dream up any kind of imaginary pet he wants. With that sort of menagerie it is hard to be lonely. This story is told in a wonderfully original voice, and the stunning illustrations invite you to step directly into the book.
In addition to being a Maryland-based author, Mary Downing Hahn is known for creating memorable characters who go through some tremendous situations that young readers can relate to. In Where I Belong, Hahn does it once again with Brendan Doyle, a misfit living in foster care who wants to find someplace where he can fit in and feel safe. Brendan’s life has been full of misfortune; abandoned at birth by his supposedly crack-addicted mother, he has bounced around in the foster care system until he feels completely unloved and unwanted. Yet, Brendan’s saving graces are his artistic ability and amazing imagination which allow him to escape the painful reality that surrounds him.
Brendan loves fantasy fiction, particularly stories about the Green Man and the creatures that live in the forest. When running away from some bullies, Brendan stumbles into the forest near his home and discovers an ancient oak tree that he feels would make a great fortress. Although he completes his treehouse, he totally neglects his schoolwork and is forced to enroll in summer school in order to enter middle school in the fall. At first, Brendan tries cutting class until his new teacher explains things in a way that finally makes sense. Brendan even tries to befriend Shea, a girl with her own painful secrets, and a mysterious stranger in the woods who may be the Green Man himself. It seems as if Brendan may finally have found two people he can care for until a series of events threatens to permanently destroy his world.
Hahn does an amazing job of capturing the way Brendan perceives his life and his frustrations about not being understood by people such as his teachers, school mates and foster mother. For both children in similar circumstances and adults who have experienced being an outsider, Brendan’s struggles to be himself yet longing to fit in somehow will resonate with them.
Emmy Rushford is a precocious and civic-minded 6th grader. When her class is assigned to do a community service project, Emmy thinks she has a great idea: Her group will collect food for a local less fortunate family. On the surface, this may sound like a good idea, but Emmy is not telling the whole story to her classmates or her family. In Peg Kehret’s book, Dangerous Deception, Emmy begins innocently enough but she is soon put in harm’s way.
Kehret makes Emmy a rather mature-for-her-years but believable character who wants to do good but naively believes she can handle some very adult issues. The family that Emmy is trying to help is in trouble. However, she cannot turn to her parents or teacher for help without exposing some lies she has told. Kehret sets up a dilemma for her heroine that may seem a bit beyond the abilities of most 6th graders, but she keeps Emmy from becoming a superhero. She is flawed but well-intentioned, and young readers may learn a lesson or two from some of Emmy’s poor decisions.
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.
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.”
The son of two famous stage magicians, Max Flash is himself a great escape artist, contortionist and illusionist. These very qualities prompt his parents’ true employer, the Department for Extraordinary Activity (DFEA) to recruit him for a special assignment. In Game On, Max’s first mission is to close the portal between the video game world (Virtuals’ world) and the real world (Gamers’ world) before the Virtuals take over. With the use of a special USB gadget, Max is thrust into the Virtual world via a computer hard drive. His task is to locate the escaped Virtual, Deezil, and close the portal between the two worlds. As he travels from game to game looking for the portal and the evil Deezil, Max must avoid race cars, battle centurions and flee farmers in his quest to save the Gamer world. Relying only on his own cunning and special skills (and some nifty gadgets from the DFEA), Max defies death and suppresses the Virtual uprising before returning home.
The first in the Max Flash series by Jonny Zucker, Game On is a fast paced adventure and the start of a fabulous series for young readers. Max’s further missions will have him battling aliens in space, robots in a parallel universe, an Egyptian curse, and mysterious beings in the Antarctic. With original stories, a likable hero and short, action-filled chapters, Max Flash is an all-around great read. Fans of the television series Phineas and Ferb will enjoy this series for its quirky storylines and action-packed heroic adventures.
Sir Sidney runs a very unusual circus. Children are admitted free, everyone is given complimentary popcorn and lemonade, and he manages to keep his ticket prices to $1 for adults. While this may seem like an odd business model to adults, children will be delighted by The Show Must Go On!, the first book in the Three-Ring Rascals series by Kate Klise. Klise and her sister M. Sarah Klise, who draws the whimsical illustrations, have collaborated on other children’s books including Letters from Camp and Regarding the Fountain and their teamwork makes for a fast-paced story with plenty of pictures.
Sir Sidney loves his circus, but he decides he needs to take a break and advertises for someone to take over for him. Enter Barnabas Brambles, a somewhat shady character who presents his certificate from the University of Piccadilly Circus in London, England to prove he is a “certified lion tamer.” The wary Sir Sidney decides to let Brambles take over the circus for a week on a trial basis. Soon it becomes apparent that Brambles is up to no good, and the plucky performers must act quickly to save their beloved circus. Children who love animals and circuses will find plenty to like, even adults will enjoy the silly humor that is a trademark of the Klise sisters.
In Neil Gaiman’s latest children’s book, Fortunately, The Milk, a father goes through an incredible series of side adventures as he tries to return home with a bottle of milk from the local store. In fact, it seems as if this hapless man encounters every sort of being from children’s literature: aliens, dinosaurs, pirates, vampires (which Gaiman calls ‘wumpires’), ponies and human-sacrificing islanders. After the father is late coming home with milk for his children’s cereal, he relates a tale that is both fantastic and silly about travelling through time with a very intelligent Stegosaurus. Naturally, his children don’t believe a word he says, but a twist at the end makes them wonder if there was any truth in his alibi.
Gaiman, whose past books include Coraline and The Graveyard Book, shares a story that could easily be turned into a Tim Burton film. Burton and Gaiman have collaborated in the past and it feels as if this book was written with a movie deal in mind. The pen and ink illustrations by Skottie Young add to the humor and give a definite comic book flavor to the tale. For youngsters who enjoy a fast-paced read with plenty of pictures, Fortunately, The Milk delivers in barely more than 100 pages.
Where would you take an injured baby dragon? To the imaginary veterinary if you are lucky enough to have one in town. The Sasquatch Escape is the first book in the Imaginary Veterinary series by Suzanne Selfors. In it, two 10-year-olds, Ben and Pearl, find themselves living in what could be the most boring town in the world, Buttonville. The Button factory has long been closed down when Ben moves in with his grandfather while his parents work out some “issues.” Pearl has lived there her whole life and is well-known as a troublemaker…so much so that she has been banned from the bookstore and other children are not allowed to play with her! When Ben’s cat catches a baby dragon, Ben and Pearl take the dragon to the only animal doctor in town, Dr. Woo of Dr. Woo’s Worm Hospital, located inside the old button factory. All is not as it seems at the Worm Hospital, as the children discover when a Sasquatch is let loose on the town!
Book two in the series, The Lonely Lake Monster, continues Ben and Pearl’s adventures as apprentices at the Worm Hospital. Tasked with trimming the Sasquatch’s toenails on the first day, they quickly become distracted by an enormous lake monster and a leprechaun with a head cold. When the lonely lake monster catches Ben for a pet, it is up to Pearl to save him (ideally without being caught breaking the rules, again!)
The Imaginary Veterinary series is filled with delightful characters from both the real world and the imaginary world. Underlying themes of loyalty and resilience add to the rich plotline. Selfors alternates points of view for each book, with book one being told from Ben’s point of view, and book two being told from Pearl’s. She adds some enrichment activities to the end of each book challenging the reader to use their imaginations with some writing, art and science activities. She also adds some background to the mythical creatures described in each book. This is an excellent adventure series for children who enjoy a little bit of fantasy. The third book, The Rain Dragon Rescue, is due out in January 2014.