Last impressions are always better than firsts: A Review of Invasion of the Unicorns

Invasion of the Unicorns
David Biedrzycki
Charlesbridge
October 19, 2021
Ages 4-8

Just past midnight, in a video arcade, there’s a burst of bright and colorful light. From it emerges Secret Agent Bubble07! Although he looks like a stuffed unicorn toy, he is actually an alien and a spy. His mission: collect data and decide if the alien unicorn army should invade Earth and make humans their servants. To do this, Agent Bubble07 allows himself to be captured by an Earthling family by posing as a stuffed animal in the claw machine. After three long days, a father outwits the machine and scoops up Agent Bubble07 for his daughter. Now, with a family to study, Agent Bubble07 will observe their every move. Will he tell headquarters that Earth should be invaded or will he discover that our planet is worth saving?

Invasion of the Unicorns is a fun and humorous picture book that shows that all people and ways of life are equal. It illustrates the importance of taking the time to learn about something or someone, rather than making judgements based on first impressions. If Agent Bubble07 attacked Earth based on how he felt on his 20th day here when the school kids were being rough with him, he wouldn’t have gotten to experience snow day on his 50th day. Each illustration has a grainy texture. There are also a few panels and full bleed pictures, adding variety and something unique to look at on each page. Biedrzycki starts the book with pictures in grayscale, only using limited color to represent Agent Bubble07’s presence. However, after the unicorn discovers the amazing things Earth offers, the pictures are filled with color. An excellent way to show how good things make life happy and vibrant. Biedrzycki’s unique story is a timeless reminder that, although we may have different cultures and traditions, they are all valuable.

Butler Bookshelf

Every October, libraries host a nationwide celebration of teens called TeenTober! TeenTober promotes year-round teen services and the innovative ways these services help teens learn new skills. To celebrate, we are featuring all Teen/YA stories this week on the Butler Bookshelf! Dive into Of Princes and Promises by Sandhya Menon. For her own personal gain, Caterina Lavalle gives Rahul Chopra a mysterious hair gel with the power to alter the wearer into whatever his heart desires. The gel transforms Rahul into a much more handsome, charming version of himself. But will this new persona change Rahul completely and take away everything he’s ever known? For more amazing titles, check out the list below!

The Wild Ones
Written by Nafiza Azad
Published by Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry Books
Available now!

Muted
Written by Tami Charles
Published by Scholastic Press
Available now!

Battle of the Bands
Edited by Lauren Gibaldi & Eric Smith
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

As if on Cue
Written by Marisa Kanter
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Of Princes and Promises (Rosetta Academy 2)
Written by Sandhya Menon
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Simone Breaks all the Rules
Written by Debbie Rigaud
Published by Scholastic Press
Available now!

How Drawing Saved the World: A Review of Penvilvania by Stephanie Watson

Pencilvania
by Stephanie Watson
Illustrated by Sofia Moore
Sourcebooks/Sourcebooks Young Readers
October 5th, 2021
Ages 8+

Twelve-year-old Zora Webb has always loved to draw, encouraged by the support and kind words of her mother—she calls her wish to draw the “Voom.” But when Zora’s mom dies after a months-long battle with leukemia, the Voom disappears completely. All Zora wants to do is scribble over the drawings that her mother had loved so much. When she does, they come to life, dragging Zora and her sister, Frankie, into the magical realm of Pencilvania, a land filled with everything Zora has ever drawn—including the scribbles, which are wreaking havoc on all the other drawings. When a scribble captures her sister, Zora goes on a quest across Pencilvania. With the help of a seven-legged horse, hamsters in pajamas, and a collection of her past self-portraits, Zora saves her sister, her love of drawing, and the rest of the realm.

 

Pencilvania is an insightful middle-grade fantasy novel chronicling the journey of Zora Webb through a land of her own making. Written in simple text supplemented by onomatopoeia interjections and visual renditions of Zora’s drawings, Pencilvania is an accessible and oftentimes humorous look at grief and healing. Complicated emotions are conceptualized using color and shapes, allowing young readers to visually track the changes in Zora’s drawings and emotion, and inviting them to look at their own emotions in a new way. The copious illustrations—a combination of childlike pencil drawings, more sophisticated illustrations, and collage-like renderings—faithfully detail Zora’s story. Though she is writing for an elementary school audience, Watson does not shy away from difficult topics; she represents and resolves anger, fear, and hopelessness truthfully and completely, while still leaving room for humor and joy. The human cast is presumed white with a varied (and oftentimes silly) group of living drawings that help Zora on her way back to hope and, ultimately, forgiveness.*

* Reviewed from an Advanced Readers’ Copy

Butler Bookshelf

Spooky season is here! Let’s celebrate by diving into Vampires, Hearts & Other Dead Things by Margie Fuston. Victoria and her dad have been fascinated with the undead since the first vampire revealed his existence on live television. They dream of finding one together some day. But that dream is ripped from them when Victoria’s dad is diagnosed with terminal cancer. To save her dad’s life, Victoria must find a vampire and become one herself. But convincing a vampire to turn her won’t be easy. She must prove that she loves life enough to live forever. Will she be able to push passed her grief, reap the joys of life, and keep her father from dying? For more fantastic titles, check out the list below!

The Curse of the Mummy: Uncovering Tutankhamun’s Tomb
Written by Candace Fleming
Published by Scholastic Focus
Available now!
Check out our review!

Wilderlore: The Accidental Apprentice
Written by Amanda Foody
Published by Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry Books
Available now!

Vampires, Hearts & Other Dead Things
Written by Margie Fuston
Published by Simon & Schuster/Margaret K. McElderry Books
Available now!

My World in 100 Words: Halloween
Written by Happy Yak and Illustrated by Sophie Beer
Published by The Quarto Group/Happy Yak
Available now!

Shadowghast
Written by Thomas Taylor and Illustrated by Tom Booth
Published by Candlewick Press/Walker Books
Available now!

Twitchy Witchy Itch
Written and Illustrated by Priscilla Tey
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

Baking with Pride: A Review of The Heartbreak Bakery

The Heartbreak Bakery
A. R. Capetta
Candlewick Press
October 12, 2021
Ages 14-17

After being dumped by a longtime girlfriend, Syd, who has always used baking to express feelings, bakes a batch of brownies that seem to magically break up everyone who eats them. This effect even reaches Vin and Alec, owners of the queer Proud Muffin bakery where Syd works and feels truly at home. With the owners’ relationship threatened, Syd worries that the Proud Muffin itself is in danger. Syd teams up with the Proud Muffin’s delivery person, Harley, to fix the mess, hoping to use newfound magical baking powers to bring all the broken-up couples together.

Told in the first person by Syd, who from time to time reflects on the experience of being agender, with a preference for no pronouns at all. There is additional representation of people from across the spectrum of gender identities. For example, Harley uses either he or they pronouns, depending on the day, with the day’s preference indicated by a pin. Syd and Harley have instant chemistry, leading Syd to open up about identifying as agender, despite an inability to express this identity to others. Capetta clearly incorporates personal experience into various aspects of the novel, describing its setting of Austin with love and delving into their baking experience by including recipes throughout the book. Filled with romance, heartache, and a touch of magical realism, The Heartbreak Bakery provides a chance for those with gender uncertainty to feel seen, a window into the agender experience, and a sweet treat for all.

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf you will find Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister? by Chitra Soundar and Jen Khatun! Sona has always enjoyed being an only child in house full of people and laughter. Then one day Amma tells her that she will soon have a brother or sister. Sona is not very fond of the idea. She isn’t sure she wants to share everything–including her family–with a new baby. But, when Sona hears that there will be a naming ceremony, she puts all her effort into finding the perfect name for her new sibling. Sona is determined to be the very best big sister she can be! For more great titles, check out the list below!

Zion Unmatched
Written by Zion Clark and James S. Hirsch
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

When Langston Dances
Written by Kaija Langley and Illustrated by Keith Mallett
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Welcome Back, Maple Mehta-Cohen
Written by Kate McGovern
Published by Candlewick Press
Available October 12, 2021

How to Have a Birthday
Written by Mary Lyn Ray and Illustrated by Cindy Derby
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

Sona Sharma, Very Best Big Sister?
Written by Chitra Soundar and Illustrated by Jen Khatun
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

Drawn That Way
Written by Elissa Sussman
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Differences make us stronger: A review of ¡¡Manu!! 

¡¡Manu!!
Kelly Fernández
Scholastic/Graphix
October 19, 2021
Ages 8-12

Manu and Josefina have been best friends since their first day at La Academia de Santa Dominga—a magical boarding school for girls. Manu is the most powerful witchling the school has ever seen. But her affinity for pranks gets her into troublesome situations. Everyone sees Manu as a terror, except Josefina and Mother Dolores. That changes when a prank goes terribly wrong. Josefina is incredibly upset and wishes for the Saints to take away Manu’s magic. The wish comes true! So, Manu resorts to extreme measures. She uses black magic to restore her abilities. Will using such a dangerous spell change Manu forever?  

¡¡Manu!! is a heartwarming graphic novel about what it means to be a true friend and being there for them no matter the circumstance. When consequences of the black magic cause Manu to attack the school, Josefina is convinced that there is something wrong. Unlike her classmates, Josefina gives Manu the benefit of the doubt. Even though she doesn’t understand why Manu attacked the school, she trusts Manu wouldn’t do it willingly. LGBTQ representation is present throughout the narrative with the revelation that Josefina isn’t attracted to boys. A relationship between Manu and Josefina is also hinted at towards the end of the novel. The panels are plentiful and expressive. Body parts are replicated and superimposed on each other to indicate movement. There’s a decrease in color as the story progresses. Panels go from full color to black and white, with some placed atop fully black pages to signify the past. Fernández pays homage to her Dominican roots with a story based on witchcraft and Roman Catholic traditions. She also includes some Spanish text throughout. Her creative adventure shows that even when we feel different, we always have someone to lean on. 

Butler Bookshelf

Tomorrow is the official commencement of the Fall season! So this week on the Butler Bookshelf, we are featuring some spooky and autumnal books! Follow twelve-year-old Billie in The Pumpkin War by Cathleen Young. Every year, Billie grows a thousand pound pumpkin, hollows it out, and races across the bay in the annual Madeline Island pumpkin race. Last year she was cheated out the win by her best friend Sam and now she wants revenge. Will Billie be able to cross that finish line, winning fame, fortune, and free ice cream? For more fantastic titles, check out the list below!

The Nature of Witches
Written by Rachel Griffin
Published by Sourcebooks Fire
Available now!

Fangs for Having Us! (Ms. Frogbottom’s Field Trips #3)
Written by Nancy Krulik and Illustrated by Harry Briggs
Published by Simon & Schuster/Aladdin
Available now!

Return of Zombert (The Zombert Chronicles #2)
Written by Kara LaReau and Illustrated by Ryan Andrews
Published by Candlewick Press
Available now!

Owl has a Halloween Party
Written by Nosy Crow and Illustrated by Jannie Ho
Published by Candlewick Press/Nosy Crow
Available now!

How to Help a Pumpkin Grow
Written and Illustrated by Ashley Wolff
Published by Simon & Schuster/Beach Lane Books
Available now!

The Pumpkin War
Written by Cathleen Young
Published by Random House Children’s Books/Yearling
Available now!

Hispanic Heritage Month: Highlighting Hispanic/Latinx Titles for All Ages

Yesterday marked the beginning of Hispanic Heritage month, which begins on September 15th, as it is the independence anniversary for several Latin American countries. This week, we highlight a variety of titles for all ages by Hispanic/Latinx writers that each, in turn, celebrate different parts of their cultural experience.

Picture Books

Mi Casa is My Home
Laurenne Sala, illustrated by Zara González Hoang
Candlewick Press
August 19, 2021

This bilingual book celebrates the family as Lucía shows the reader around, explaining her surroundings and introducing her various family members in Spanglish. The large and diverse family is depicted in soft watercolor and colored pencil art. Sala shows the cozy and welcoming aspects of the home of a Hispanic family, where extended family and neighbors are always welcome.

A Thousand White Butterflies
Jessica Betancourt-Perez & Karen Lynn Williams, illustrated by Gina Maldonado
Charlesbridge
January 19, 2021

Isabella has recently arrived in the US from Colombia with her mother and grandmother, having to leave her father behind. She is lonely and looking forward to her first day of school and making new friends. A storm and snow-day leave Isabella heartbroken, missing the warm climates and friends she left behind in Colombia. While looking out the window, she spots Katie playing in the snow. A playdate and new friend improve Isabella’s perspective on her new situation. Back matter includes authors’ notes which delve into the real-life inspiration for the story, general information about immigrants, and a glossary translating the Spanish terms used throughout the story.

Your Mama
NoNieqa Ramos, illustrated by Jacqueline Alcantara
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Versify
April 6, 2021

Ramos celebrates mothers in this twist on the classic “yo’ mama” joke, with each phrase celebrating motherhood. Banners that resemble old school “mom” tattoos are used to start each lyrical phrase, with vibrant art mixing markers and pastels depicting a brown-skinned mother and daughter. Including Spanish in some of the text drives home both the author’s and illustrator’s stated commitments to promote inclusiveness and diversity in children’s literature.

Children’s Fiction

Fearless
Mandy Gonzalez
Simon & Schuster/Aladdin
April 6, 2021

Broadway star Mandy Gonzalez weaves her knowledge of theater into her debut novel. Twelve-year-old Monica Garcia arrives in New York City after being chosen as an understudy in a new show at a famed, but now struggling, theater. Rumors of a curse plague the building and strange and terrible things start to happen, threatening the chances of a successful opening night. Monica and her castmates must figure out how to reverse the curse, using a mixture of mystery solving and supernatural magic. This book, along with its just announced sequel, is sure to appeal to readers looking for drama or a fright.

Time Villains
Victor Piñeiro
Sourcebooks Young Readers
July 6, 2021

This debut novel from Piñeiro combines magic, imagination, and adventure in this first entry to a new series. Javi is working on a school assignment that involves “inviting historical figures to dinner” when he finds out that his family’s mysterious antique table can actually bring the historical guests into the present time. Unfortunately, one of his guests is Blackbeard, the infamous pirate, and he escapes the party, determined to summon the rest of his pirate crew. This leads Javi, his best friend, and his sister to work together to return Blackbeard to his own time, but they might have to invite other historical figures in order to do so. Back matter includes notes about all historical figures featured in the book.

Wild Survival #1: Crocodile Rescue
Melissa Cristina Márquez
Scholastic
February 2, 2021

Twelve-year-old Adrianna Villalobos travels the world with her family as her parents host Wild Survival!, a nature show featuring animal rescues. Adrianna is determined to prove that she deserves a spot-on camera as the show is poised to move from YouTube to a TV network. This is all put in jeopardy when her brother is injured in an accident that is partially Adrianna’s fault. To avoid being sent home, Adrianna must prove herself, even if it means confronting a legendary Mega Croc rumored to inhabit the waters around the family’s base camp. Back matter includes an author’s note where Márquez, a marine biologist and wildlife educator, recounts the real-life inspiration for the book, crocodile facts, and translations of Spanish terms used in the family’s dialogue.

Teen Fiction

Fire with Fire
Destiny Soria
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
June 8, 2021

Sisters Dani and Eden Rivera have been raised as dragon slayers. While they have different life priorities, they agree about the importance of their dragon slaying duty. That is, until Dani gets to know a dragon and realizes that what they were taught was wrong. Eden turns to mysterious magic to save her sister, believing her to be lost to the dragons. As the two dabble in new and dangerous magic, there is a more powerful enemy lurking in the shadows.

How Moon Fuentez Fell in Love with the Universe
Raquel Vasquez Gilliland
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
August 10, 2021

Moon is used to living in the shadow of her twin sister, a social media star. That is, until one fateful summer when she takes a job as the merch girl on a tour bus full of influencers. She starts off with nothing but hatred for her bunkmate, Santiago Phillips, but this feeling shifts as the two continue to cross paths, along with Moon’s acceptance of her role in relation to her sister. This romance focuses not only on the connection between its two primary characters, but also on Moon finding herself and her place in the universe.

On the Hook
Francisco X. Stork
Scholastic Press
May 18, 2021

Hector has always kept his head down, taking steps towards a better life. Then, he is forced into a violent confrontation when his brother gets into a fight with the head of the DiscÍpulos gang. The consequences are many, including being sent to a reform school where he must live side by side with his enemy Joey, who had already previously promised to kill him. Hector must ultimately choose between revenge and working his way back to the path towards the life he dreamed of.

Nonfiction

It’s All Love: Reflections for Your Heart & Soul
Jenna Ortega
Random House Children’s Books
January 5, 2021

This debut by actress Jenna Ortega focuses on uplifting quotes and affirmations. Ortega’s personal stories about growing up Latina in Hollywood, working through depression, and more are accompanied by relevant quotes framed by illustrations. The range of experiences and emotions described within the collection is sure to resonate with a large variety of readers.

Butler Bookshelf

This week on the Butler Bookshelf you will find The Jasmine Project by Meredith Ireland! All is well in Jasmine Yap’s life. She’s about to move in with her longtime boyfriend Paul and start a nursing program in the fall. But, when Jasmine catches Paul cheating, her stable plan goes down the drain. Now her overprotective family is using the breakup as a opportunity to show Jasmine how she deserves to be treated. They secretly invite the town’s most eligible teen bachelors to her graduation party. Will Jasmine find love or a broken heart? For more great titles check out the list below!

King of Ragtime: The Story of Scott Joplin
Written and Illustrated by Stephen Costanza
Published by Simon & Schuster/Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Available September 14, 2021

Gigantosaurus: Roar, Giganto, Roar!
Written and Illustrated by Cyber Group Studios
Published by Candlewick Entertainment
Available September 14, 2021

Jazz for Lunch!
Written by Jarrett Dapier and Illustrated by Eugenia Mello
Published by Simon & Schuster/Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Available now!

The Jasmine Project
Written by Meredith Ireland
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Beautifully Me
Written by Nabela Noor and Illustrated by Nabi H. Ali
Published by Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
Available September 14, 2021

World in Between
Written by Kenan Trebinčević and Susan Shapiro
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt/Clarion Books
Available now!