Beyond the stars: A Review of Lights on Wonder Rock

Lights on Wonder Rock
David Litchfield
Clarion/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
September 9, 2020
Ages 4-8

Heather was searching for something more—magic, friendship, adventure, and aliens! So she spends her nights at Wonder Rock, doing all she can to attract the attention of a spaceship. When she finally gets her chance to jump aboard, Heather realizes she doesn’t want to leave her family behind. She grows up, loses the wonder of childhood, and has a family of her own, but never gives up waiting for her alien friend. When at last they return, Heather once again recognizes that she might already have all she needs here on Earth.

Litchfield’s thoughtful story explores themes of longing, hope, and curiosity about what other lives may be out there for us. His use of dark and muted tones for the forest, juxtaposed with the colorful and sparkling pages where the spaceship appears, help to set off the difference between how Heather sees her life and her expectations about what might await her in outer space. Double-page spreads of wordless panels put a unique focus on the two most important relationships in the story, with her son and her alien friend, and explain the pull she feels between them. Throughout, Litchfield cleverly uses light—sun, moon, and flashlight beams—to focus on Heather’s emotions and the devotion she feels to both her family and her dreams.

Butler Bookshelf

What do you get when you cross Mean Girls and the supernatural? You get Mintie Das’ debut novel, Brown Girl Ghosted. It’s a high school thriller about cheerleaders, race, and the #metoo movement – all set in a small Illinois town. Check out more great reads below, in the latest Butler Bookshelf!

Winterborne Home for Vengeance and Valor
Written by Ally Carter
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Brown Girl Ghosted
Written by Mintie Das
Published by Versify
Available now!

Prairie Lotus
Written by Linda Sue Park
Published by Clarion Books
Available now!

Jasmine Green Rescues: A Duckling Called Button
Written by Helen Peters and illustrated by Ellie Snowdon
Published by Walker Books
Available now!

You Call This Democracy?: How to Fix Our Government and Deliver Power to the People
Written by Elizabeth Rusch
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

 

Butler Bookshelf

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Did you know that a group of flamingos is called a flamboyance? Or that a bunch of frogs is called an army? Learn all about it in Hannah Salyer’s excellent Packs: Strength in Numbers – and check out the many other delightful picture books we’ve received this week!

Princess Adventures: This Way or That Way?
Written by Sylvie Misslin and illustrated by Amandine Piu
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

I Am Goose!
Written by Dorothia Rohner and illustrated by Vanya Nastanlieva
Published by Clarion Books
Available February 18, 2020

Packs: Strength in Numbers
Written and illustrated by Hannah Salyer
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Almost Time
Written by  Gary D Schmidt & Elizabeth Stickney and illustrated by G. Brian Karas
Published by Clarion Books
Available now!

Up on Bob
Written and illustrated by Mary Sullivan
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available February 11, 2020

Let’s Build
Illustrated by Zoe Waring
Published by HMH Books for Young Readers
Available now!

Most Anticipated 2020 Middle Grade Titles

We’ve been getting a few advanced copies of 2020 titles and we thought it would be fun to share some of our favorites titles so far. Make room on your tbr list for these middle grade titles and make sure to grab them off the shelves when they come out!

get a grip.jpgGet A Grip, Vivy Cohen!
By Sarah Kapit
Published by Dial Books
February 25th, 2020
Ages 8-12
Vivy Cohen is determined to pitch for a real baseball team, but her mom is worried about Vivy being the only girl and only autistic kid on the team. Vivy writes to her hero, major-league pitcher VJ Capello, who writes back to her! As if this wasn’t already too good to be true, Vivy gets invited to join a team where she uses the advice she gets from VJ to be the best pitcher she can be. When an accident benches Vivy, she is forced to fight to stay on the team. Written by Sarah Kapit, chairperson of the Association for Autistic Community, this is an own voice title worth checking out.

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The BlackBird Girls
By Anne Blankman
Published by Viking Books for Young Readers
March 10th, 2020
Ages 9-12
When Chernobyl collapses in an explosion, rivals Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko are forced to escape and find safety while their government tries to keep the disaster a secret. Can the two rivals learn to trust one another long enough to survive? Told from three different perspectives, this book shows that even a nuclear disaster is no match for the power of friendship.

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Stand Up, Yumi Chung!
By Jessica Kim

Published by Kokila
March 17th, 2020
Ages 9-12
Yumi dreams of being a stand-up comedian, even if she is shy and gets called “Yu-MEAT” by the kids at school because she smells like her family’s KBBQ restaurant. Instead of spending her summer watching and studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to try and qualify for a private school scholarship. An unexpected opportunity arises one day after class when Yumi stumbles upon a comedy camp taught by her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that everyone at the camp thinks she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura, and Yumi doesn’t correct them. This debut novel by Jessica Kim is a stellar and hilarious entry into middle grade fiction.

ghost squad Ghost Squad
By Claribel A Ortega
Published by Scholastic Press
April 7th, 2020
Ages 9-12
Right before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend Syd cast a spell that accidentally awakens an evil spirit that wrecks havoc all across St. Augustine. The two girl’s join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her cat, Chunk, to reverse the curse and save the town before it’s too late.  Inspired by Ortega’s Dominican heritage and all things 80’s, this book blends nostalgia with the supernatural beautifully and puts a refreshing spin on this familiar tale.

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A Place at the Table
By Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan

Published by Clarion Books
May 12th, 2020
Ages 10-12

Sara feels completely lost at her new middle school, which is totally different from the small Islamic school she’s gone to her entire life. Elizabeth has problems of her own: her best friend seems to be pulling away and her British mom is struggling with depression. When the two girls are thrown together at an after school South Asian cooking class they don’t really hit it off. But when they learn that both of their mom’s are applying for American citizenship, they form a shaky alliance and make plans to win a spot on a local food show. They may make great cooking partners, but could they make great friends too?

Benefits of a Bossy Butler: A Review of Pay Attention, Carter Jones

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Pay Attention, Carter Jones
Gary D. Schmidt
Clarion Books, February 2019

The Butler in Gary Schmidt’s Pay Attention, Carter Jones shows up at the perfect time. Carter’s father is deployed in Germany when Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick arrives on the Jones’s family’s front porch, his service an inheritance of sorts from their recently passed grandfather. Carter’s mother, struggling to care for four and mourning the loss of a fifth, is all too happy to accept free help, but Carter doesn’t appreciate Mr. Bowles-Fitzpatrick’s insistence on speaking “the Queen’s English” or his tips on gentlemanly behavior. The two bond, however, when the butler teaches Carter to drive a car that will one day be his own and introduces him to the intricacies of Cricket. When Carter finds out his father is not returning from Germany, he starts to suspects the butler knows more about his family than it seems, and that the butler’s unsolicited guidance may help him sort the fragments of his family currently spinning out of control. The Butler is appropriately irritating and loveable all at once, striking a perfect balance of affection and frustration as his central relationship with Carter blooms. Carter is both stubborn and sympathetic as a middle schooler confronting the loss of a sibling and his father’s abandonment in a touching and realistic way. A hilarious and heartfelt book that will have readers laughing between tears and “remembering who they are.”

Many thanks to local author, SCBWI-IL member, and guest reviewer, Mike Grosso. Mike is an author, musician, and middle school math teacher who always keeps a guitar in his classroom. Mike writes books and records music at his home in Oak Park, Illinois, where he lives with his son and a drum set he plays much too loud. I AM DRUMS is his first novel, and his rock album, SILENT EXPLOSION, was funded via Kickstarter in early 2018. You can find him at mikegrossoauthor.com.

 

 

 

 

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.

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The Turnkey of Highgate Cemetery by Allison Rushby
Candlewick Press, July 2018
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Women and Wealth Redistribution: A Review of The Forest Queen

The Forest Queen by Betsy CornwellThe Forest Queen
Betsy Cornwell
HMH/Clarion Books, August 2018

“Steal from the rich, give to the poor” gets a fresh take in this gender-swapped retelling of the classic Robin Hood tale. Sylvie, sixteen and lady of Loughsley Abbey, begins to question her family’s treatment of the people of Loughsley – especially now that her brother, John, is the unforgiving sheriff. With her childhood friend, Bird, she runs away and lives in hiding in the nearby woods. Slowly, others from Loughsley join them in their new community, including a young woman named Little Jane, the midwife Mae Tuck, and others who feared otherwise being jailed for their inability to pay egregious taxes. Sylvie must eventually confront her brother, along with her own complicity in the evils done by her family, and she comes to realize that the changes required for economic justice mean she must take “radical action” and put herself in potential danger for the greater good.
Sylvie and her mission to redistribute wealth among the people of Loughsley are easy to root for, but the additional focus on gender roles, womanhood, and the idea of community as family are what set this retelling apart. Strong secondary characters help to challenge Sylvie and force her to take a strong stand against a system that she would otherwise benefit from, and parallels can be drawn from the injustices in the story to those of today’s world. As Little Jane, who becomes a dear friend to Sylvie says, “If someone doesn’t care whether you live or die, then living itself is rebellion” (p 241). This thoughtful narrative of what can happen when the privileged few horde wealth while the majority struggles to make do with less and less shows the power in a united band of concerned citizens.