Best-known for her teen books, Cecil Castellucci teams up with noted graphic novelist Sara Varon to create Odd Duck, an amusing tale of belonging and acceptance. A sort of graphic novel without panels, it tells the story of Theodora, a very proper duck who has her daily routine down pat. It includes wingspan exercises, quacking in a perfect tone, and swimming across the pond in back of her immaculately clean home with a cup of rose hip tea on her head (in order to maintain perfect posture). Then one day her world is turned upside-down with the arrival of Chad, a very different kind of duck, who moves into the vacant house next door to Theodora. Chad is an artist, a musician, a layabout with dyed feathers! Will Theodora be able to endure a neighbor like Chad?
Varon's accessible, anthropomorphic pen-and-ink pastel illustrations of the ducks and their surroundings match the loose, casual style of the text. Fun vocabulary is introduced to young readers throughout the pages, which include a few speech balloons and a lot of side commentary (with arrows) by an omniscient narrator. Odd Duck is a wonderful introduction for kids who are bridging the picture book, beginning reader, and graphic novel formats. Readers will enjoy making their own determinations as to whether Theodora or Chad is the odd duck, and what differences between friends really matter .
It’s springtime in Boston, and it seems everyone has a little spring fever. In Clementine and the Spring Trip by Sara Pennypacker, Clementine’s best friend Margaret has taken to cleaning everything in sight, right down to the duckling statues in Boston Common. The apple seeds Clementine planted in the fall have sprouted. Even Clementine’s teachers are celebrating by sending their students on a field trip! Clementine isn’t looking forward to this trip though. This year, the third graders and the rule-inventing fourth graders are taking their field trip together to “ye olden times”, also known as Plimoth Plantation. According to Margaret, in the fourth grade, you have to eat silently, or else! No crunchy foods allowed! It seems like a silly rule to Clementine, but then she has other problems. Problems like learning the Olive-language that the new girl is teaching everyone, and - worst of all - the chance that she might end up riding on dreaded stinky Bus 7, “The Cloud.”
This field trip has more in store for Clementine than she could have imagined. An encounter with a Plymouth colonial and a chance meeting with a chicken may cause Clementine to take a stand, both against silly rules and for something in which she truly believes. Funny, sweet and individualistic, Pennypacker’s characters and the appealing illustrations by Marla Frazee will resonate with young readers. Recommended for elementary readers and in particular for fans of the Judy Moody series. Equally recommended for adults and children to read together.
Two new picture books illustrate the joy of play with the simplest of toys. In Peanut & Fifi Have a Ball by Randall de Seve, Peanut has a new ball and older sister Fifi wants it. Fifi tries to entice Peanut to share with a variety of imaginative games, but Peanut remains uninterested. It is not until Fifi comes up with an irresistible adventure involving a seal and outer space, that Peanut is willing to share. The spare graphic illustrations complement the simplicity of the story while capturing the boldness of Fifi’s imagination. This delightful tale offers a gentle lesson about sharing, sibling interaction, and the power of imagination. Seeing an older sibling not always getting her way is also a welcome twist!
In Ball by Mary Sullivan, readers meet a most expressive and exuberant canine. The day in the life of a dog wanting to play ball is told mainly using panel illustrations with just the title word repeated throughout the story. Upon first waking, the playful pup and his girl start to play ball. But she soon leaves for school, and despite his best efforts, the dog is unable to find any other playmates – not even the cat. His sadness, wistfulness, desperation, and excitement are perfectly depicted in the expressive illustrations. The dog finally dozes off and even then his brain is focused on one thing only. The outlandish dream sequence unfolds in full-page drawings which match the supersized doggy dreams. When the girl’s seemingly interminable school day is over, readers will be almost as thrilled as the dog as they reunite and he can finally play fetch.
Fifth grade is difficult to navigate as Genie Kunkle finds out in Elisabeth Dahl’s Genie Wishes. Genie lives in Baltimore with her father, brother, and grandmother. She is about to start the fifth grade at Hopkins Country Day School and is thrilled to learn that Sarah, her BFF, will be in her homeroom. But Sarah is thrilled that Blair, her new friend from summer camp is also in their class. And Blair is not thrilled with anything Genie does – from her name (Haddock is her unfortunate middle name), to not shaving her legs. As Genie notes, the transitive property she learned about in math does not transfer to friendship.
Fifth grade progresses and Genie makes new friends since Sarah and Blair are now a package deal. She also tries new things, like running and winning the election for class blogger. Using the name Genie Wishes, she voices the wishes and dreams of her class. Her posts are popular, but sometimes it’s hard to think of things to write and she also worries about expressing her opinion. Change is afoot at home as well and Genie finds herself dealing with a moody older brother and a dad back in the dating pool.
Dahl does an excellent job of conveying the struggles of a realistic tween learning to accept change and make decisions, both fluffy and weighty. While the loss of her best friend is painful, it is not a major betrayal. As she finishes the year and heads for middle school, Genie realizes it’s important to stand for something and let her voice be heard. Tweens everywhere will relate to Genie’s genuine conflicts and appreciate the quick resolutions. Kids from Charm City will love all of the Baltimore references from the National Aquarium to dressing up in Ravens’ colors for Spirit Day.
Famed collaborators David Almond and Dave McKean once again unite their respective authorial and illustrative talents to bring to life a haunting and subtle creation fable in Mouse Bird Snake Wolf. Harry, Sue and Little Ben live in a wonderful world, much like our own. It is filled with the most marvelous places and creations that the gods could imagine. There are forests, rivers and mountains, elephants and camels, and yet stranger creatures like the zowet and the brant. It is a safe world and a calm one and the gods who fashioned it are well pleased with everything in it. In fact, the gods are so pleased with their creations that they have stopped making anything else. Instead now they alternately nap, have tea and cake and admire all that they have made.
As a result, this is also a world of curious gaps; empty spaces and unfinished endings that interrupt the landscape. Such gaps are all too easily filled by the imagination of curious children. Little Ben is the first to imagine something out of the nothing when he brings into the world a strange new creature: the mouse. Sue and Harry swiftly follow, creating yet more peculiar creatures. Soon it seems that the children’s beautiful creations might rival the gods’...except some of them are also becoming a little, well, scary....
Gently, the story alternately examines both the children’s and the gods’ actions, hinting at the dangers of overconfident ambition and the foolishness of leaving work half-done. With undertones of myth and traditional just-so storytelling, Mouse Bird Snake Wolf will easily appeal to readers who enjoy children’s fables. The sublime illustrations offer a thoroughly modern visual foil for the storyline, thereby rendering this a likely choice for graphic novels enthusiasts as well.
The underworld stinks! Ten year-old Hades is on a quest through the smelly underworld with his companions, Zeus and Poseidon; fighting Titans, dodging monsters and avoiding licks from a three-headed dragon dog. Hades seems to like it there, though. It smells great to him and the groan-inducing jokes of the ferryman, Captain Charon, crack him up. Hades and the Helm of Darkness, by Joan Holub and Suzanne Williams, is a lighthearted, fun read and a great introduction to the Greek myths. The third in the Heroes in Training series, Hades and the Helm of Darkness continues the saga of the Olympians' rise to power which began with Zeus and the Thunderbolt of Lightning and continued with Poseidon and the Sea of Fury. Following the fuzzy prophecies of the Oracle of Delphi, who, unfortunately, has foggy eyeglasses, the heroes in training must find and use their powers in order to save the world from the Titans. Next up in the series will be Hyperion and the Great Balls of Fire.
Holub and Williams also co-author the Goddess Girls series. These books send the Greek goddesses to an ancient middle school with Zeus as the principal. The classic myths are retold in a middle school setting complete with teenage drama and angst. Start with Athena the Brain. Twelve-year-old Athena finds out she is the daughter of Zeus and is summoned to Mount Olympus Academy, where she comes up against mean girl Medusa (and manipulates some mortals as a class assignment). The eleventh book in the series, Persephone the Daring, is due out in August. Fans of the Monster High and Dork Diaries series are likely to enjoy Goddess Girls.
From the imagination of Liesl Shurtliff comes a fractured fairytale without equal. Many are the authors who have drawn upon the fairy and folk tales of their youth to inspire new and unusual retellings. Perhaps because of our shared experience of the originals, these "fractured" fairytales have a way of resonating with readers, filling in gaps and answering the myriad questions left in the wake of so many beloved ̶ yet characteristically brief ̶ stories. In Rump: the True Story of Rumpelstiltskin, Shurtliff casts her discerning eye and powers of imagination over a most unlikely hero.
On The Mountain where he is born, your name is your destiny; as influential as the stars. When Rump is born early ̶ too early ̶ his mother has only enough strength left to whisper his name to him before dying. Though she strains to hear, his Gran can only make out "Rump" and so he is known. Though he has just marked his twelfth birthday, Rump hasn't grown an inch since he was eight years old. Life is not easy on The Mountain, especially for a diminutive boy whose name makes him the butt of more than a few jokes. Food rations are perennially scarce, and The Mountain's natural resource (gold!) seems scarcer still as time goes on. Yet when Rump chances on his mother’s old spinning wheel he discovers an unexpected talent. Soon, Rump is spinning the finest strands of pure gold. However, magic comes at a price, and Rump’s new talent has not gone unnoticed by the village’s greediest inhabitant, the miller.
A series of increasingly tangled predicaments will lead Rump from his home on The Mountain all the way to The Kingdom, Yonder and Beyond. Alongside the trouble though, he’ll discover friends, family and the truth behind his name and his destiny.
In Look Up: Bird-Watching in Your Own Backyard, Annette LeBlanc Cate uses witty text, hand-drawn lettering, and pleasant, approachable colored-pencil art to encourage readers to notice the birds that share our environment. The author/illustrator covers a bevy of concepts relating to our feathered friends, and describes how she became an avian enthusiast and the simple ways that anyone can become one, too. In a casual, friendly style, the author advises beginners to start with a simple list of the birds that they see in their own surroundings. She is also an advocate for sketching and journaling. Easy-to-follow tips for better bird-watching, including useful ideas such as looking in the margins of a line of sight, and searching at dawn and dusk, allows the novice to spot birds that may otherwise be missed.
Identifying birds is covered at length, but not in the same style as a general field guide (which she highly recommends using as well). Instead, common birds are separated by color palette, shape, detail, and song. Throughout the book, familiar birds are introduced, and each page builds upon the previous until more involved concepts such as habitat, migration and classification are touched upon. Cate also stresses the value of keeping a sketchbook and encourages those who don’t believe they can draw to start with the basics and go from there. Even the endpapers are full of good information and funny quips. A useful bibliography and index, which also include bird commentary, completes the irreverent but highly informational package.
Before he was 'Babe', George Herman Ruth was a troubled boy growing up on the familiar streets of Baltimore. These formative years are documented by Matt Tavares in Becoming Babe Ruth, his richly illustrated and engaging homage to the "Sultan of Swat". Already uncontrollable at age seven, George was left at Saint Mary’s Industrial School for Boys by his father. There George was forced to abide by the strict rules which were rigorously enforced. But, after all the chores and schoolwork were complete, Brother Matthias would let the boys play baseball. Under Brother Matthias’ expert tutelage, George focused on fundamentals and perfected every aspect of his game. His hard work was rewarded when he was signed to a minor league contract with the Baltimore Orioles. It was here that George became Babe, and Tavares is careful to share the origin of the famous nickname with curious readers. From Baltimore, Ruth went to Boston and eventually ended up with the New York Yankees, with whom he had a long and storied career. Along the way, the Bambino achieved an unprecedented level of superstardom.
Tavaras does an outstanding job of outlining important moments in Babe’s professional life, but also documents lesser known details of his life as a young boy in Baltimore. The realistic mixed-media illustrations bring Babe to life and readers get a real sense of his charm, his outsize personality, and his love of the game he played so well for so long. But even as Ruth became a household name, he never forgot where he came from. Tavares notes his repeated generosity and gratitude to St. Mary’s and the men who shaped him. An author’s note, statistics, and bibliography are appended and complete this uplifting story of the most famous baseball player in history and his connection to Charm City.
What would your dream house look like? If you’re Andy and Terry, you live in The 13-Story Treehouse, a marvel of backyard architecture with limitless possibilities for fun. Besides the usual bedrooms, kitchen and bathrooms, it’s got a game room, a theater, a bowling alley, a see-through swimming pool, a tank full of man-eating sharks, and for good measure, a secret underground laboratory. In other words, paradise. Penned by perennial favorite Andy Griffiths and liberally illustrated by his usual partner-in-laughs Terry Denton, this fast-paced slapstick book for middle graders marks the beginning of a hysterical new series.
The author and illustrator have made themselves the protagonists of the beyond-silly story. The action begins when Terry inexplicably paints the neighbor’s cat with yellow paint and drops it over the edge of the deck. The feline sprouts wings and flies off, now transformed into a “catnary.” Meanwhile, the pair has missed the deadline to send a new book to their publisher, Mr. Big Nose. How will they come up with something overnight, especially when Andy insists on beginning the story “Once UPOM a time”?
Middle grade readers, particularly boys, will find the combination of wacky plotlines and simple black and white cartoon drawings irresistible. Give The 13-Story Treehouse to fans of Dav Pilkey’s Captain Underpants series and Dan Gutman’s My Weird School First Chapter books.