Found Cryptid Family: A Review of Another Kind

Another Kind
By Cait May and Trevor Bream
HarperCollins/HarperAlley
October 26, 2021
Ages 10+

This graphic novel centers on six not-quite-human kids who initially live in the safety of a secret government facility nicknamed the Playroom until a security breach disrupts their lives. They are forced to go on the run, fleeing from a mysterious being known as the Collector. While on the run, they meet other “irregularities” who live hidden from society. They realize, too late, that a sanctuary many irregularities have headed towards is a trap set by the Collector and come face to face with him. The group and their new allies must find a way to overcome the Collector’s leech-like powers. In the end, the group prevails, making a new home for themselves in a safe place they had been searching for all along.

Readers are sure to appreciate the diversity of the cast as characters come from different ethnic backgrounds and LGBTQ+ identities. Additionally, there is a great diversity in the types of cryptids depicted, with the main cast featuring a half-Yeti, a will o’ the wisp, a bear shifter (Nandi Bear), an alien (Reptilian), a selkie, and a sea monster. A varied cast of secondary characters includes other types of creatures which are sure to appeal to readers interested in the supernatural. The art highlights the diversity of the cast with the use of a broad range of colors. Various paneling and lighting styles efficiently show off action and shifting moods as certain parts of the story touch on darker themes. While the backstories of central characters include dark moments, yet they overcome past hardships by sticking together. The moments the young characters spend together feel authentic as they banter. The two older members of the group face the responsibility of caring for the rest, particularly the youngest, who is 6 years old. At times, she takes childish actions that jeopardize the group, yet those around her show her nothing but love and support as she struggles to fully understand why she must hide what makes her different from “normal” people. The primary messages of embracing one’s differences and the importance of found family are ones that every reader is sure to learn from.

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.

A Tale of Crossing Fates: A Review of The Other Side of Luck

The Other Side of Luck 
Ginger Johnson 
Bloomsbury Children’s Books 
July 6, 2021 
Ages 8-11

Una and Julien could not be more different. Una is a Princess while Julien is a pauper, barely getting by day to day with the profits made from selling plants he forages with his ailing father. Yet both have something the other lacks. Una, wealth and comfort that Julien could only imagine. Julien, his father’s love. Una longs for parental love after her mother’s death leads her father into a depressive spiral. Even after he remarries, he only seems interested in his male children, leading Una to resent her gender. Una’s father then decrees that anyone who can bring him the rare Silva Flower will get a grand reward. This sets the events of the story in motion, eventually leading Una and Julien to each other and ultimately to the Silva Flower. 

Johnson crafts her setting carefully, with the start of the book rarely featuring dialogue amidst lyrical prose. The setting has a medieval feel, though the descriptions focus more on the physical setting – wildlife and nature that the protagonists spend much of the story trekking through – than the time period. Alternating viewpoints focus on a variety of characters beyond Una and Julien, providing insight once multiple things are happening at once. Character names as chapter headings help to keep track of the shifting point of view. As the story progresses, Julien and Una’s goals change as Una comes to terms with the loss of her mother and focuses on the present, prompted by Julien to realize that she can use her talents to show her father what she can do, despite her gender. While at times plot points are conveniently resolved, the theme of luck interwoven throughout the text make this believable and it allows for the plot and goals of the protagonists to shift unpredictably, leading to great moments of suspense. 

Review based on Advance Reading Copy 

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.

blackbird girls

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.

stand up.jpg

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.

place at the table

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?

A Cool and Sweet Summer Treat: A Review of My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich

my life as an ice cream sandwich

My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich
Ibi Zoboi
Penguin Random House, August 2019
Grades 5 and up

 My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich, by National Book Award Finalist Ibi Zoboi, explores the imaginative world of Ebony-Grace Norfleet. While Ebony goes to Harlem to live with her father during the summer of 1984, her mother helps Ebony’s beloved grandfather back home. Her grandfather was a former NASA engineer, one of the first to be integrated into the NASA program in the 1960s. Ebony has followed in his footsteps with her fascination with space, spaceships, and science fiction. As the summer progresses, Ebony tries to adjust to big city life, a totally different world for her, coming from Huntsville, Alabama. From the start, readers will feel pulled into Ebony’s world, the sounds and excitement of New York City, and the 1980s.

Ebony battles the struggles in her life by seeing and experiencing everything as science fiction (Star Trek, Star Wars, and Wonder Woman). She then relates these challenges to the adventures she had with her grandfather (Sonic Boom, Captain Fleet, and many more) back home. It’s a summer of change for Ebony as she learns to make new friends and tries to fit in. She finds a new love and respect for her father and her roots, and she gains more self-awareness. Ebony discovers she can trust others, and most importantly of all, she learns to believe in herself. By summer’s end, Ebony realizes that she has other special people in her life besides her grandfather and that no matter what, his love will always be with her.

Zoboi’s use of space as a metaphor is effective and expertly crafted, drawing the reader more deeply into Ebony’s story. Her voice is exceptional, heartfelt, and stunning. Zoboi paints a setting that is real, palpable, and rich with imagery. She captures what it means to be at crossroads – the time when childhood and young adulthood eclipse, where dreams and reality clash, and when learning to let go is often the hardest thing of all, but a necessary part of growing up. My Life as an Ice Cream Sandwich is a beautifully rendered story of identity, family, friendship, loss, and acceptance.

 

Many thanks to local author, SCBWI-IL member, and guest reviewer, Elizabeth Brown. Brown is the author of Dancing Through Fields of Color: The Story of Helen Frankenthaler, illustrated by Aimee Sicuro, (Abrams Books for Young Readers, 2019) – a Junior Library Guild Selection. She has additional forthcoming picture books to release soon. Ms. Brown holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College, and she is represented by Sean McCarthy Literary Agency.

 

 

Where Do You Fit In? A Review of Click

Click

Click by Kayla Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, January 2019
Ages 10-13

In Kayla Miller’s Click, the variety show is coming up at school and outgoing Olive has not been asked to join a group. This leaves her feeling outcast and alone when she is unable to find her own “click.” Olive refuses her mom’s help to find a group, instead turning to her Aunt Molly. She decides the best choice is to become a host, the talent show announcer. In her words, “It would be a way that I could help all of my friends with their acts by introducing them” (p.132). This story was heartfelt and cute with bright colored pastel artwork which suggest that the tone is cheerful. The digital medium conveys the lively tone through expressive faces and flat simplistic backgrounds with bold highlight lines. The novel does a wonderful job touching on family relationships, specifically mother and daughter. At first, Olive’s mom oversteps her boundaries in trying to help her. By the end of the novel, a balance is achieved between allowing Olive to be independent and encouraging her to follow through. Olive also learns that, in friendships, growing apart and having different interests is okay. Her friends even encourage her in her choice to become a host. The novel has a solid plot portraying realistic issues for friendship and family. Miller shows these serious middle school themes in a lighthearted way that doesn’t take away from the tension.

One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys

One for the Murphys
by Lynda Mullaly Hunt
Nancy Paulsen Books, 2012

For a dog owner, it’s always a fascinating exercise to see what your pet notices. You pick up the house keys and she’s at the door; simply raise your eyebrows and her ears are pricked up in anticipation. A dog’s job is above all observing her humans, and we’re amazed by what she notices.

Yet nothing tops our own species as the reigning champions of observation. When we’re paying attention, we see everything: the slight tightness in a boss’s face, or the averted eyes of a suspicious stranger. The key is the paying attention part. In psychology experiments, a subject might be “primed” for a test by viewing significant words or images. In life, our past experiences teach us what to look out for.

One for the Murphys is a story about seeing. Twelve-year-old Carley Connors keeps much to herself, but the reader sees she’s a pro at observation, especially of her foster family:

“Michael Eric comes in with his hand tucked into his armpit. His mother drops to the floor like someone has kicked her behind the knees, but she lands gently, holding out her arms, and he melts into them.”

From smiling photos, neatly arranged pantry supplies, and especially the warm gestures and touches exchanged between the Murphys, Carley sees she doesn’t belong. She sees other things, too: moments of tension, worry, and anger. To another’s eyes, these might be normal moments of stress for a family, especially a new foster family. But to Carley, every frown is evidence that she is unwanted. Every hand reaching out is a potential slap, and she reflexively flinches. Although she has a keen eye for observation, her perception is skewed.

Through fragments of memory, the reader starts to see why: the last thing Carley saw before she woke up in the hospital was her stepfather raising his fists to beat her, and her mother holding her down. Carley, believing strength and emotion are mutually exclusive, doesn’t share this information readily with the people she encounters. Without all the facts, these other characters make their own judgments: a police officer sees her as an instigator; a classmate, seeing only the new clothes Mrs. Murphy has purchase for Carley, thinks she’s a mindless clone of any other kid. But the reader is granted the most accurate view. In seeing each person’s mistakes in perception, including Carley’s, we start to wonder about the people we see and the judgments we make. There’s almost always more to the story – in One for the Murphys and in life – and it isn’t always something that we great observers can clearly see.