Billy Miller is about to start second grade and is very worried. He hit his head in a fall over the summer and is worried he won't be smart enough for school. Reassuring him, his father tells him this will be The Year of Billy Miller. Follow Billy through his second grade year in this charming novel by Kevin Henkes. Broken into four parts, Billy’s school year is told through his relationships with his teacher, sister, father and mother. Realistically portraying the worries of a 7-year-old, The Year of Billy Miller touches on a little bit of everything.
Does his teacher like him? When Billy thinks he has offended his new teacher he worries and wonders how to fix it. Can his little sister fill in for his best friend when a planned sleepover is cancelled? He really wants to stay up all night. Is he really too old to call his father “Papa?" That’s what the know-it-all Emma says. Will he be able to recite the poem for his mother in front of everybody? Will his mother like it?
Henkes delivers a poignant, realistic portrayal of Billy that is relatable to any elementary school student. Fans of realistic fiction such as the Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary will enjoy this novel. Kevin Henkes is an award-winning author of over 50 picture books as well as numerous novels for children. The Year of Billy Miller is a worthy continuation of his great body of work.
Ava loves words and wordplay, especially palindromes, due in part to her name being a palindrome: A-V-A. So are her sister’s, mother’s and father’s: Pip, Anna and Bob. It’s no wonder that palindromes are an important part of her life, along with writing in her diary and trying to decide what she wants to be when she grows up. In Ava and Pip by Carol Weston, fifth grader Ava uses her diary to share her feelings and thoughts about such critical issues as her sister’s shyness, her parents’ tendency to ignore her and her hope of becoming a writer.
Although Pip is 2 years older, Ava feels responsible for her sister and wants to help her overcome her shyness and be more outgoing. In an odd turn of events, she finds help from a new seventh grader named Bea, who seems to be everything that Pip is not: bold, confident and mature. However, Ava and Bea’s plan to turn Pip from a wallflower to a social butterfly may not be as easy as they believe.
Weston’s book is reminiscent of the Ramona and Beatrice stories by Beverly Cleary, particularly the relationships between the sisters and their parents. The character of Ava is well-drawn even if she does seem unusually precocious at times for a fifth grader. This book would especially appeal to children who are going through the trials and tribulations of middle school, and also those who love playing with words.
Valentine’s Day will be here soon. However, you don’t need the calendar to read February 14 in order to share some heartwarming picture books about love with your little ones. In The Runaway Hug, written by Nick Bland and illustrated by Freya Blackwood, a little girl named Lucy asks her mommy for a hug before bedtime. This hug is special because it’s the very last one that her mommy has and because of that, Lucy promises that she will return the hug back to her. Lucy decides that she must share this very special last hug with everyone else in her family. She shares this last hug with her daddy, the twins and the baby before sharing it with the family dog, Annie. But when Lucy tries to get the hug back from Annie, the dog runs away playfully and takes Mommy’s very last hug with her. Will Lucy be able to keep her promise to return the last hug to her mommy? Bland’s text meshes well with Blackwood’s illustrations, depicting a loving and somewhat chaotic home to which parents will easily relate.
Even though love is not something that you can see or touch, love can be found all around us in Love Is Real, written by Janet Lawler and illustrated by Anna Brown. Using rhyme, Lawler tells a story about how love can be found in simple acts of kindness. Adorable families of forest creatures show how everything they do throughout the day, from helping you get dressed in the morning to putting a bandage on a skinned knee, are examples that love is real.
Another book about love featuring forest animals is Love You More Than Anything by Anna Harber Freeman. Children will love the simple rhyming text and bright, playful illustrations by Jed Henry. Whether it’s ladybugs, playing on the playground or a bubble bath, there is nothing that the chipmunk parents love more than their little kids.
It’s hard work for picture book protagonists to get a decent meal these days. In Buddy and the Bunnies in: Don’t Play with Your Food, our hero is a monster to be reckoned with. All frantic mouth and teeth, wide eyes and pointy claws, Buddy announces his intention to eat a trio of peaceful, checkers-playing white rabbits. But these clever lagomorphs have other ideas for keeping Buddy busy, beginning with playing hide and seek and baking a dozen delicious cupcakes. Each day the horned, orange-striped monster returns for a rabbit repast, and each day there are more bunnies who are too much fun to eat. Children are guaranteed to laugh out loud at Buddy’s wild mood swings, from frightening and frantic to endearing and delighted, broadly depicted by author-illustrator Bob Shea. His bold, bright pastel palette adds to the story’s upbeat, energetic tone. Buddy and the Bunnies demands repeat read-alouds.
The trench-coated fox of Mike Twohy’s Outfoxed makes a midnight run to the chicken coop, mistakenly grabbing a duck in his haste. The two return to his den, where the exhausted predator is all set to cook his prey. But this is no ordinary duck! Thinking on her feet, the fowl proclaims that she is actually a dog. Duck jumps and slobbers and barks, working hard to convince Fox of her worthiness as a canine companion. Twohy, a longtime cartoonist for The New Yorker, uses a brightly inked comic book style to tell this comedy of mistaken identity. Young readers are sure to delight at Duck’s misbehaving dog act, while the book invites a debate of the merits of the old saying “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck.” Outfoxed is sure to be a story time favorite.
On Jan. 31, many will celebrate the first day of the Chinese New Year and welcome in the Year of the Horse. It is a time to let go of the troubles of the past year, to clear one’s debts and to start anew. These tenets are found in Goldy Luck and the Three Pandas by Natasha Yim, a delightful picture book illustrated by Grace Zong.
A retelling of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, Yim’s tale is set in a Chinese town, the bears are pandas and the porridge is congee. Despite her name, Goldy Luck does not feel all that lucky. While on her errand to wish her neighbors a happy new year, Goldy spills the plate of turnip cakes she had been carrying. Her neighbors, the Chens, are not home, and when Goldy tries to clean up the mess she discovers bowls of congee – a porridge made of rice. Following the traditional story, she ends up eating the porridge, breaking a chair and sleeping in a bed that is just right. When discovered by the neighbors, she runs away. Will the tenets of the new year bring Goldy back to the Chens’ to set things right? And can she reconcile her differences with Little Chen? Children will love the familiarity of the story and the colorful illustrations. A recipe for turnip cakes can be found in the back to add to your own celebration of the new year.
If you would like to celebrate Chinese New Year at the library, please visit our Owings Mills Branch at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 1. Children ages 5 to 12 will enjoy stories and a craft. For more information on this and other programs, please refer to our dateLines page.
It all began with a vacuum cleaner. Popular children’s author Kate DiCamillo returns with a tale of a cynical young girl and an ordinary backyard squirrel turned superhero in Flora and Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures. The inciting incident occurs in the first few pages (presented in a comic book style by illustrator K.G. Campbell) when Donald Tickman presents his wife with the ultimate birthday present – a Ulysses Super-Suction, Multi-Terrain 2000X. Neighbor Flora happens to be peering out the window just as the out-of-control vacuum propels into the Tickmans’ yard, sucking up a hapless squirrel. A fan of comics and survival literature (but not the sappy novels penned by her romance-writer mother), Flora turns out to be the perfect person to revive the fur-stripped mammal.
Well aware that “impossible things happened all the time,” she soon recognizes that the squirrel’s run in with the vacuum has granted him amazing powers (among them, flying and typing poetry). Upon witnessing his super strength, Flora dubs him Ulysses and becomes his de facto sidekick. Of course, every superhero has an arch nemesis, and in this case it’s Flora’s own mother who has it in for the rodent.
Campbell’s appealing pencil illustrations are essential to the enjoyment of this engaging and exciting novel. DiCamillo is a master at creating the quirky characters that are the hallmark of her work, appealing to both young and older readers. The winner of the 2004 Newbery Medal for The Tale of Despereaux (and a Newbery Honor in 2001 for Because of Winn-Dixie), DiCamillo was inaugurated as The National Ambassador for Young People's Literature on Jan. 10. According to the Library of Congress, the National Ambassador “raises national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people.” DiCamillo's platform is "Stories Connect Us” and she will be serving in the position during 2014 and 2015.
It can be difficult raising a head-strong, impatient, stubborn and impulsive little girl. But what happens when that little girl is also a witch? That’s the challenge Salem’s parents face in The Misadventures of Salem Hyde: Spelling Trouble by Frank Cammuso.
When Salem’s spelling skills are questioned by a fellow student studying for the school’s spelling bee, she sets off to prove that she is a great speller. However, instead of spelling the word “dinosaur,” Salem turns Mrs. Fossil into a dinosaur. No one is supposed to know that Salem is a witch, and this mistake almost causes her to be expelled from school. What Salem needs is an animal companion, and Aunt Martha knows just the right one for the job: Lord Percival J. Whamsford, also known as Whammy, an 800-year-old talking cat who still has five of his nine lives left.
Will Whammy be able to instruct Salem in the fundamentals of being a witch? Can she really fly using a vacuum cleaner instead of the traditional witch’s broom? What will happen when Salem’s spell goes completely awry as she tries to ensure that she is crowned the new Miss Spelling Queen? And will all this be too much for Whammy to handle? Find out in the first installment of a delightful new graphic novel series. This fast-paced, humorous book is excellent for mid- to upper-elementary readers who will surely enjoy the simple green, black and white drawings reminiscent of Sunday morning comics.
Attention LEGO fanatics! Your favorite toys are coming to the big screen when The LEGO Movie arrives in theaters on February 7th. Voiced by stars like Will Arnett, Elizabeth Banks, Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Liam Neeson and Chris Pratt, this movie promises to be fun for kids and adults alike. These cool new books will keep you excited about all things LEGO until you get to the theater.
The LEGO Movie: The Essential Guide by Hannah Dolan is a fun companion to the movie. It offers character profiles, background information about the town of Bricksburg and the Prophecy and, of course, behind-the-scenes information about the movie. Kids will love the book’s fun illustrations and movie stills.
If the movie inspires you to get creative with your own LEGOs, try Daniel Lipkowitz’s The LEGO Play Book: Ideas to Bring Your Bricks to Life. This book pulls together hundreds of building ideas at varying skill levels. Tips and tricks will help you get the most out of your build so that you can be a heroic Master Builder too.
New readers can relive the fun of the movie with Helen Murray’s The LEGO Movie: Awesome Adventures. Kids will be excited to read this book filled with easy text and graphics from the movie.
If you’re looking for even more LEGO fun, check out these titles available in our collection or visit one of our branches to join us for an upcoming LEGO Fun program!
Two outstanding new children’s books are sure to delight young readers and are destined to achieve contemporary classic status. These novels capture the best of children’s literature with appealing stories, engaging characters and unforgettable adventures.
Settle back and enjoy an old fashioned tall tale in the latest from Newbery Honor-winning author Kathi Appelt. The True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp is a rollicking story told from the perspectives of human and animal residents of the Sugar Man Swamp. Rich in local color, with a quirky cast of characters, Appelt’s masterful storytelling will immediately engage readers. Raccoon brothers Bingo and J’Miah, 12-year-old Chap Brayburn and the Sugar Man (who just might be a distant relative of Bigfoot!) join forces to prevent the development of the swamp by greedy bad guys. The short chapters create a sense of urgency and add to the fast-paced storytelling while lessons about conservation and development are delivered gently. This entertaining story is perfect for reading aloud as demonstrated by Lyle Lovett, whose impeccable narration on the audio edition is unforgettable.
The Doll Bones by Holly Black wraps themes of friendship, storytelling and growing up in a deliciously spooky quest story. For years, Zach, Poppy and Alice have played an intricate game involving pirates, mermaids and warriors in an imaginary land ruled by the Great Queen — a bone-china doll who resides in Poppy’s family china cabinet. But Zach’s dad thinks a 12-year-old boy should only be playing sports and forces Zach to quit the game. Then Poppy removes the Great Queen from the cabinet and unleashes the ghost of a girl named Eleanor whose ashes were used to make the doll. Eleanor’s ghost demands a proper burial for the doll, and Poppy convinces the others to help execute this request. The three embark on an epic journey and must face percolating issues, including conflicts at home and their own changing relationships, all while dodging danger and staving off the supernatural. Thrills and chills enough to satisfy any scary movie fan!
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.