Announcing “Read Local”

As promised in our “Made in Illinois” post, we’d like to share updated information about SCBWI’s Read Local website and resource for anyone looking to collaborate with authors and illustrators from Illinois. Here is their launch video:

We invite local librarians and educators to use Read Local in their programming and instruction, and don’t forget to visit Butler Children’s Literature Center to see what’s new in board books, picture books, nonfiction, early readers and chapter books, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction! We are open Monday-Thursday from 12-4 pm, or by appointment (email butler@dom.edu).

Happy collaborating!

Duty, Loyalty, Love: A Review of Empress of All Seasons

 

Empress of All Seasons

Empress of All Seasons
Emiko Jean
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, November 2018

As per tradition, when the land of Honoku needs a new empress, a competition is held. All eligible women are invited, and the one who survives each of the four enchanted seasonal rooms is deemed worthy of the title of Empress of Honoku and position next to Taro, the prince next in line to be emperor. Mari has trained for this competition since childhood, though as yōkai she is technically ineligible to compete. Yōkai, supernatural beings, are under threat and enslaved by the current emperor. But Mari cares little about the rules or the prince – she competes for the power of being empress, and to bring change to Honoku from within. Taro himself doesn’t enjoy being a prize to be won, and cares little about his power – he would rather spend time in his lab with his mechanical inventions. Akira, another yōkai and friend of Mari, works to overthrow the Emperor from the outside while Mari keeps her true identity hidden to join the competition. Taro may just become their greatest ally, if they can learn to trust each other when their identities and motivations are revealed.

A detailed world and political structure along with multiple perspectives gives this fantasy novel depth and puts the reader at the immediacy of the action. Inspired by her Japanese heritage, Jean has created an escape for readers that questions the sacrifices made for duty and love, and challenges the notion of tradition as a value to be upheld.

Stregas & Strategy: A Review of The Brilliant Death

brilliant deathThe Brilliant Death
Amy Rose Capetta
Viking Books, October 2018

Historical fantasy and romance collide in this captivating tale set in Vinalia, a fictional land inspired by mountain villages of old Italy. Teodora di Sangro is well aware of and versed in the di Sangro way of life, which places loyalty to the family above the self, and the opinions of men above women – but she yearns for more: the power of a di Sangro son, and to use the magic she holds inside of her. With her magic, she changes her family’s enemies into trinkets that decorate her room, but Teo knows she could do more, if only her father trusted the strega way in addition to practicing and teaching political strategy to his sons.

When Teo meets Cielo, a young genderfluid strega who can teach Teo how to use her power to become the di Sangro son she longs to be, Teo realizes there may be a way to be her true self and save her family from the Capo’s plans to weaken each of the Five Families of Vinalia. With challenges to traditional gender roles, exploration of what it means to feel at home and whole in your body, and poetically descriptive language, The Brilliant Death elevates a coming-of-age story into a thoughtful consideration of who we are when we let go of society’s expectations and trust the magic inside of us.

Slight Frights and Daring Scares: Nine Spooky Books for Middle Grade Readers

October is here, and with it come ghosts, goblins, witches, and monsters. Today we’re looking at a few of this year’s spooky reads for middle grades – books with slight frights that won’t give you nightmares.

sgirllockedThe Girl in the Locked Room: A Ghost Story by Mary Downing Hahn
Clarion Books, September 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻

The cover and title of this story make it seem far scarier than it is in reality. Narration shifts between Jules, whose family has just moved into an abandoned house, and the “Girl,” Lily, whose family lived in the house decades ago. Both girls are curious about each other, and of their respective time periods, and their friendship might be just what Lily needs to find her final resting place. This is gentle ghost story, for readers want to ease into the season.

sturnkey
The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby
Candlewick Press, July 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻

Less a ghost story, and more historical fiction featuring supernatural characters, The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery’s scariest features are the German soldiers and the threat of a bombing looming over the action of the tale. In London during World War II, young ghost Flossie Birdwhistle is in charge of keeping the cemetery’s buried souls at rest, but a mysterious soldier – also a ghost – draws Flossie into England’s war efforts. Readers who prefer their ghosts to act with integrity and honor will find it easy to support Flossie and her ghostly friends.

scityghosts
City of Ghosts by Victoria Schwab
Scholastic Press, August 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻👻

In this first novel of a new supernatural fantasy series, Schwab creates a world similar to ours: a reality TV show featuring two “ghost hunters” travels to Scotland to film their pilot episode. They are faking it: though the “Inspectres,” as they call themselves, truly believe in and want to see ghosts, they just don’t. Their daughter, Cass, does – and has even befriended the ghost who saved her from a near-death experience several years ago. The ghosts of Scotland aren’t nearly as friendly, and it will take another young “In-betweener” to help Cass realize her full powers as someone who can cross the Veil. There’s plenty of good versus evil in this ghost-hunting adventure, with humor and heart to balance out the action.

spoplar
The House in Poplar Wood by K.E. Ormsbee
Chronicle Books, August 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻

Lee and Felix Vickery are twins, but the only thing they do together is travel to town on Halloween, the one night that Death allows. For the rest of the year, they go about their lives in Poplar Wood, on opposite sides of their house, as the Agreement states. Felix helps his father, who is an apprentice to Death, and Lee does the same for his mother, who is Memory’s apprentice. It’s not the best life, but they make it work – until the daughter of Passion’s apprentice is killed, and Gretchen Whipple, the mayor’s daughter, and sworn enemy of the Vickerys, decides to get to the bottom of a feud that has controlled the lives – and deaths – of everyone in their small town for years. Lee, Felix, and Gretchen form a friendship as strange as their living arrangements to set things right. Poetic descriptions give this book a contemplative feel, though the action ensures it’s never bogged down in too much detail.

sbegone
Begone the Raggedy Witches by Celine Kiernan
Walker Books, February 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻

This first book in an forthcoming trilogy creates a world where witches live across an invisible border and live by a set of ancient rules. Mup, her mam, and her brother cross this border to save her her dad after he is kidnapped by the creator of these rules – her grandmother. Reminiscent of other fantastical journeys taken by young women to rescue those they love and get back home, Begone the Raggedy Witches gives its readers characters to care for and a magical world to explore. The villains are just cruel enough to resent, but good witches abound as well, and Mup’s fight becomes more than just a rescue mission – she must save Witches Borough itself from her grandmother’s control.

sfakeblood
Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner
Simon & Schuster, September 2018
Cover: 👻👻
Content:👻👻

Nia Winters likes vampires. AJ likes Nia, but since he isn’t a vampire, he can’t seem to catch her attention – until he decides to become a vampire himself. Then he realizes it’s not that Nia likes vampires – she slays them. Suddenly his great idea could be the death of him, if he can’t convince Nia it was all a ploy, and that a real vampire of Spoons Middle School is still out there. This graphic novel is more silly than scary, with all of its parodying of other well-known vampire tales. The illustrations add a level of fun, and the relationships between AJ and his sister and AJ and his friends are sweet with plenty of goodnatured needling. For readers who would rather laugh at monsters than be terrified by them, Fake Blood will satisfy.

scryptid
The Cryptid Catcher by Lija Fisher
Farrar Straus Giroux, August 2018
Cover: 👻👻
Content: 👻👻

Clivo Wren is only taking up the family business when he becomes a cryptid hunter at age 13, after his father’s death, but he may have taken on more than he knows how to handle. After all, he just found out cryptids really do exist – is he really ready to track and catalog them? Humanity as we know it may be on the line if Clivo isn’t up for the task of finding the rumored “immortal” cryptid, so with the help of several trustworthy friends, and a few more less-than-trustworthy colleagues, he sets out to catch whatever cryptids he can. Teenagers with plenty of dry humor and monster-hunting lore make this a delightful read that’s less scare and more dare.

scarlett
Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor
First Second Books, April 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻

Part Sherlock Holmes-ian detective, part Lara Croft action-adventure hero, and all quippy one-liners, Scarlett Hart doesn’t shy away from danger as she follows in her late parents’ footsteps. With the help of Napoleon, Mrs. White, and plenty of hunting gadgets, she tracks down and hunts various monsters – from gargoyles springing to life to zombies terrorizing the theatre – hoping to catch them before the conniving Count Stankovic catches her. Hand drawn illustrations bring the monsters and Scarlett to life and help to build intensity as she escapes each dangerous situation.

smallspaces
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden
G.P. Putnam’s Sons, September 2018
Cover: 👻👻👻
Content: 👻👻👻👻👻

For having a rather tame cover (though it gets creepier the closer you look), this story is shockingly scary. A field trip to a local farm turns terrifying as the bus breaks down on the way back to school and the bus driver smilingly says, “Best get moving. At nightfall they’ll come for the rest of you.” Eleven-year old Ollie and two of her classmates are the only ones who take the driver’s advice, choosing to try their luck in the surrounding forest. They aren’t sure if they’ve made the right choice, or who (or what) exactly is coming for them, but they’ll soon find out. Excellent pacing and well-timed cliffhangers, along with a smart and courageous heroine make this a treat for brave readers.

“Made in Illinois”: Connecting Readers with Creators in YOUR Classrooms and Libraries

Sarah Aronson

The Butler Children’s Literature Center was pleased to host local author Sarah Aronson last week Thursday, September 20th, for her “Made in Illinois” presentation. Aronson, who has written several books for children and teens, including the Wish List series for middle grade readers and an upcoming Rube Goldberg picture book biography, is originally from Pennsylvania, but now calls Evanston home. She shared with our audience various ways teachers and librarians can incorporate local authors and illustrators into their programming, from brief but impactful Skype conversations, to writing or illustrating workshops, or as enhancements to various STEAM curricula. Aronson also suggested collaborating with authors and illustrators to introduce more difficult conversations. “Books are a safe place to have a bigger discussion,” she said, whether that be about “bullying, the loss of a loved one, or talks about community and empathy.”

However educators want to work with authors and illustrators, the important thing, Aronson reminded everyone, was that the kids and their interests and imaginations be at the forefront, and that it be a collaborative effort between all parties: “When kids meet authors and illustrators, something happens. The book comes alive.” All it takes to make this magic happen is reaching out. Many authors have contact information on their websites, and there is an online resource launching this fall that will help connect local creators with local educators (look for announcements here and on our social media!).

Thanks again to Sarah, and happy collaborating to all!

Creatures with Emotions: A Review of How to Be a Good Creature

how to be

How to Be a Good Creature: A Memoir in 13 Animals
By Sy Montgomery
Illustrated by Rebecca Green
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, September 2018

In ten brief chapters, Montgomery recalls her time with and lessons learned from 13 animals – some known only for days, some beloved family members. Each chapter is part biology lesson, part biographic narrative, and part philosophical reflection on the gift of animals in our lives. Montgomery describes in vivid detail the daily routine of emus in Australia, the playful nature of an octopus living at the New England Aquarium, the charming personality of a pig named Christopher Hogwood, and the ways in which she grew and changed as a person thanks to a variety of family pets. This memoir is unique in its creature focus, and in the full range of emotions displayed by both Montgomery and her animal companions. This heartfelt memoir written for a young audience reminds us we’re all just creatures with emotions. As she states, “A far worse mistake than misreading an animal’s emotions is to assume the animal hasn’t any emotions at all” (p 148). As a read along, read aloud, or part of a larger discussion about our place in the world, How to Be a Good Creature will be at home on many bookshelves.

New Children’s Fiction Alert!: Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Tight by Torrey Maldonado

Tight
Torrey Maldonado
Nancy Paulsen Books, September 2018
Ages 8-12/Grades 3-7

If Bryan could be any superhero, he’d be Batman. Or Black Panther. They’re smart, they think 10 steps ahead, and they’re tough. Bryan’s dad and his older sister, Ava, both say he should be tough: “don’t be soft” they tell him, but his mom keeps him cool and level-headed. She also introduces him to Mike, who is in 7th grade – one year older than him in school – and Bryan thinks he’s pretty tight. Mike loves comics and drawing superheroes just like Bryan, and he doesn’t let school get in the way of having fun.

Slowly, Mike starts asking Bryan to take more and more risks: climbing up to the rooftop of a neighborhood building, ducking the subway turnstiles to take the train for free, skipping school to get the newest Luke Cage comic. Bryan doesn’t feel so good about lying to his parents, especially his mom, but he loves the feeling of freedom that comes with hanging out with Mike.

Bryan’s internal struggle to make the right choices is grounded in Tight’s contemporary Brooklyn setting and in his genuine interactions with strong secondary characters. He genuinely wants to do the right thing, while also wanting to give his friend a chance to choose better as well. Maldonado’s dialogues present a variety of perspectives on peer pressure and the difficulties of navigating friendships as a young person, making it easy to empathize with Bryan.