Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Dragons and Gaming books part 2! 5.03.22

Last year I shared some middle grade titles about dragons (here).  Dragons are a hot topic and I always have readers who are looking for more.  Another topic that readers are always on the lookout for are books about gaming.  Here are some new titles for your collections!

Dragon Ops by Mari Mancusi
Dragon Ops: Dragons vs. Robots
by Mari Mancusi
I really enjoyed the first Dragon Ops book.  This series combines gaming and robots so I feel like readers have found their book glory with this one!  The first book found our main characters, siblings Ian and Lilli, stuck in a game where the only way out is to defeat the big baddie, the dragon Atreus.
In book two, Ian keeps seeing and hearing Atreus in his head no matter where he goes.  But when he finds out his friend Ikumi, who only lives online, needs help, Ian knows he has to face his fears and Atreus again.  
Book two has Ian and Lilli inside a new game with new obstacles, so while the premise may sound familiar, it does feel different than the first book.
After I finished book one, I knew it would have a sequel.  Book two certainly leaves the door open, but I have not seen anything about a book #3.

Dragon Legend by Katie Tsang
Dragon Legend
by Katie and Kevin Tsang
Another sequel, and this one leaves you breathless!  This series follows four friends: Billy, Dylan, Charlotte, and Ling-Fei and their bonded dragons as they try and find the evil Dragon of Death and the special missing pearls.  This one picked up right where book one left off and then didn't stop until the cliffhanger at the end.  Luckily, book three publishes today!  I enjoyed the theme of friendship and how being there for each other is its own kind of protection.  These stories really make you want to have your own dragon!  But be warned, there are some surprising twists in this one, so don't put your guard down!
I like the length of this series and the trim size of the books.  Perfect for dragon enthusiasts who are looking for an amazing adventure and a book they won't be able to put down!

Dino Trouble by Nate Bitt
Arcade World: Dino Trouble
written by Nate Bitt
This new graphic novel series introduces us to Travis and Journey.  They are two friends who love gaming.  They play of games of all kinds (there's even a little mention about doing a lot of online gaming while everyone had to stay apart for awhile) but when a mysterious new arcade opens up - where all the games are free to play - Travis and Journey think they found a new favorite hangout!  But when scenes from a favorite game start coming to life and they find their lives in danger, they have to figure out who is behind it and how will it end.  With books 2-4 already planned for this year, I know readers are going to enjoy this series!

City of Thieves by Alex London
Battle Dragons: City of Thieves
by Alex London
If you have readers who love dragon stories, this is a must have!  It's fast-paced and high on adventure!
Abel lives in Drakopolis where dragons have been domesticated to suit the purposes of humans, as transportation, garbage-burners, and more.  However, the kins, or local gangs, use the dragons for battling and other purposes that benefit their kin.  Abel finds himself in the midst of a kin battle, and one he must win in order to save his family.
I'm looking forward to later this summer for book 2!

The Awakening Storm by Jaimal Yogis
City of Dragons: The Awakening Storm
by Jaimal Yogis and Vivian Truong
This graphic novel is perfect for intermediate and middle school readers.  If you enjoy dragons and manga, this has a touch of both.  The first in what will surely be a series, it introduces us to Grace.  We find out right away that she has experienced a family tragedy with the loss of her father.  Jump forward a few years, and she has now moved with her mom and stepfather to Hong Kong.  While trying to fit in, she ends up on an unapproved excursion and gains a dragon egg from a mysterious woman.  Grace and her new friends go on a mission to find out about Nate, their newly named dragon and find themselves in the depths of a mystery that brings past and present together.
The story had a few loose transitions that left me a little confused.  I had to take my time reading it to avoid any confusion.  I think it's a story that would have benefitted from some chapters to break it up a little.  However, graphic novel and dragon aficionados will enjoy this one and be anxious for book 2!

Hope you found a new book or series to pick up for your readers!

Friday, April 22, 2022

Kid Scientist series - 4.22.22

Calling all future scientists!  Would you like to know more about the scientific world?  There is a new series that is letting young readers dive (or dig) into the science fields!

Marine Biologists on a Dive by Sue Fliess     Archaeologists on a Dig by Sue Fliess
Kid Scientist series
Marine Biologists on a Dive
Archaeologists on a Dig
written by Sue Fliess
illustrated by Mia Powell
published by Albert Whitman

In the first two books of the Kid Scientist series, young readers get to explore the field of marine biology and archeology.  So whether you want to dig or dive, author Sue Fliess and illustrator Mia Powell have you covered!

Both texts feature fictional scientist teams that are in the field for a specific purpose.  In the marine book, the scientists are studying a whale pod.  Each diver has a specific task they are working on and studying.  Some studies include whale sounds and communications, others are behaviors of the whales in the pod, and the health of the food the pod is eating.  Animal conservation is also mentioned because the biologists even help a young whale that has been entangled in a fishing net.

The archaeologist book has readers visiting one of the world's biggest religious temples, Angkor Wat in Cambodia.  Sam's team is looking for artifacts to learn more about the people and history from that time period.  The author shows us step by step the process archaeologists take when searching for artifacts in an area, and then what happens once items are discovered.  I loved learning about a process scientists use to figure out how old an artifact is by using a machine that uses thermoluminescence lighting.  A piece of the artifact is crushed and added to the machine.  It is heated up and based upon the amount of light it gives off, the machine can calculate how old it is.  So cool!

I like that each book mentions the scientific method.  Readers get a feel for how scientists might use it in that field of study.  The steps of the scientific method are included in the backmatter.  And speaking of backmatter, each book has even more information about the scientific fields at the end of the book.  Between additional sources, a deeper explanation of that particular scientist, and how to become a scientist in that field, readers will leave with a new sense of understanding of that scientific career!

These texts are perfect for a read aloud and will absolutely inspire some young scientists in your classroom!

Would you like to add a copy of these books to your library?  Publisher Albert Whitman has generously donated a copy of each book for giveaway!  Enter by Friday, April 29th for your chance to win (US residents).

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Being a Dog - a review - 4.19.22

Want a story that will draw readers in?  Just find a good dog story!  But this new dog story is more than just that.  It's a love letter to dogs and the way that they go through life, just BE-ing!  It's a book about mindfulness and reminding ourselves that it's important to just BE.

Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness
Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Pete Oswald
published by HarperCollins

The story opens up with the reminder that dogs just live their lives.  They go through their day just being a dog.  Whether it's stretching, or eating, or playing, they go through their day, enjoying it.  Whether it's nice weather or wet weather or snowy weather.  As we go through the book, readers understand that dogs have emotions too and when they feel them, they show them.  Especially when they are happy.  Sometimes they use their whole body to show that!  

What a beautiful metaphor to talk through with young readers.  Think about the mindfulness in the life of a dog and how can that be important to their own lives?  How can they just BE and what lessons can we learn from the dogs in the story?  It's a powerful idea when you dig deep and think about it.  I know I definitely need reminders to BE instead of always thinking about the next things on my list!

I really love the mindfulness ideas included in the backmatter.  Tips to help us be mindful, no matter what the season is!  Dogs don't worry about the seasons, they find ways to just BE any time of year!  

Now, this book could not just be written by anyone, it has to be someone who has had many dogs to love.  Someone who knows just how dogs can BE and loves their dog for those reasons.  I asked author Maria Gianferrari to tell us more about one of her beloved dogs, Becca.  Thanks for stopping by, Maria!  Take it away!

My late, very beloved and much missed rescue dog, Becca, was the inspiration for Being a Dog and for all of my canine “tails.” The Penny & Jelly books were based on her bond with our daughter, Anya—Becca was like her dog sister, since Anya’s an only child. I call this the “best friends” photo (Anya was 6, and Becca was 1). Becca’s initial separation anxiety led to the structure of Hello Goodbye Dog, and Operation Rescue Dog was loosely based on her own transportation rescue story.

Becca was my furry, faithful friend and writing companion. I am so grateful to have had her as a family member for almost 14 years. Not surprisingly, when Becca died in November 2019, I was devastated and deeply depressed for a couple of months. I couldn’t work, and I cried all the time—her absence was so present and palpable. When I finally sat down to write again, I wanted to feel all of the joy and calm and love that I felt in her presence. I got to thinking about how dogs live in the moment, and what we as humans can learn from that.

I love the Ted Lasso quote, “Living in the moment is a gift. That’s why they call it the present.” Writing
Being a Dog, being present, reliving those times, helped me to find joy again. I think of the book as Becca’s gift to me, because it was one of those rare books that wrote itself and flowed out, and that doesn’t happen very often. But when we’re open to things, magic happens.

And now I get to “be a dog” with our new rescue mutt, Maple.

Thank you, Maria, for sharing this very special story!

More about author Maria Gianferrari:
Maria Gianferrari is a community scientist, self-taught naturalist, and bird nerd who holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. She is the author of narrative nonfiction picture books which celebrate urban ecosystems, the natural world and our wild neighbors. She also writes engaging expository nonfiction. And as a lover of dogs, Maria’s fiction picture books star dogs as main characters and explore the human-canine bond. She writes from her light-filled, book-lined study in Massachusetts with rescue dog, Maple at her side.

Be sure to find your copy of this special book today! Want to try your luck and win a copy? Maria and HarperCollins are generously giving away a copy of the book to a blog reader (US residents only). Enter below and a winner will be selected on Tuesday, April 26th.

Monday, April 18, 2022

A book for Earth Day! 4.18.22

 While Friday may be Earth Day, it's really something we should be thinking about everyday!  Here's a perfect book for your celebration:

Be Thankful for Trees by Harriet Ziefert
Be Thankful for Trees:
A tribute to the many and surprising ways trees relate to our lives
written by Harriet Ziefert
illustrated by Brian Fitzgerald
published by Red Comet Press

Author Harriet Ziefert tells us many reasons why we should be thankful for trees - a tree is food, is comfort, is recreation, and so much more!  Divided up by the reasons we should be thankful and some great examples for each one, this story is told in a rhyming format.  I love that there is minimal text on each page, usually just an example per page (two per layout) which makes it a great read aloud and it's accessible to all readers.  The examples are wonderful springboards for further conversation, such as, did you ever think about how trees give us music since it makes so many musical instruments?  Or, maybe talk about the surprise when we figure out that trees give us so many recreation objects, like baseball bats or paper kites!  By the end of the book readers understand that while trees help us so much with our everyday lives, we also need to remember to conserve this valuable resource!

Looking for more Earth Day stories?  Click here for more posts and more books!

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

This is a School blog tour - 4.06.22

If you were writing a love letter about all that a school can be, what would you include?  I imagine learning would be a central part.  Maybe a welcoming community?  How about the people that fill it?  If you're looking for that book, look no further, because AUTHOR John Schu has written it for us!

This Is a School
written by John Schu
illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison
published by Candlewick Press

This timeless book is an ode to all the things we hope and want our schools to be.  This book invites readers in to a beautiful setting where learners are welcomed, encouraged, and supported.  The illustrations by Veronica Miller Jamison are filled with bright and inviting colors.  

This school community is one we all want to be a part of and belong to.  Mr. Schu has captured the emotions, hopes, and dreams all of us have for our learning communities!

The phrase "we learn" is a repeated phrase in the story, but I love that the word "learn" encompasses more than just facts and information.  It's about learning to be a friend and empathetic person.  It's about the interpersonal skills we gain in conversation with each other at school.  It's about helping each other grow and learn!

Of course, as many of you know, this book is such a special one for so many of us because it's written by our very own, Mr. Schu!  We all know John Schu as a champion of books, authors, illustrators, and creators everywhere.  It's so exciting to see his name on this book and celebrate it with him.  I'm very excited to welcome Mr. Schu and talk more about This Is a School!  Welcome, John!

Hi, Mrs. Knott! Thank you for all you do to help connect readers with stories. I’m grateful for your kind comments about This Is a School.

When did this book first take shape in your mind?

I wrote This Is a School, illustrated by Veronica Miller Jamison, after I wrote This Is a Story, illustrated by Lauren Castillo, even though This Is a Story comes out next year. This Is a Story is an ode to the power and importance of story. This Is a School is my love letter to students, homeroom teachers, school librarians, reading specialists, guidance counselors, custodians, social workers, principals, art teachers, school secretaries, music teachers, coaches, school nurses, volunteers, helpers, and everyone who helps make school a place of connection. The book took shape in 2019 as I reflected on the life-changing experiences I had in schools as a teacher, as a teacher-librarian, as a student, and as the former of Ambassador of School Libraries for Scholastic Book Fairs.

I love the line, "Some people see what we're good at, and that helps us to know it, too."  I bet there has been an influential person for you since you've been on your author journey - either when you were young and just beginning to craft your stories to now.  Tell us about someone who has influenced you and helped you see what you're good at!

Oh, thank you so much for asking this question, Michele! The first name that popped into my mind was Dr. Mary Margaret Reed, my fifth-grade teacher. I write about her in The Creativity Project, edited by Colby Sharp.

This book feels so timeless!  I can see teachers and librarians reading this to children year after year.  As this book goes out into the world, what are your hopes for it?

Thank you for your confidence in the story. It means so much to my heart! I hope it makes people smile. I hope they pore over Veronica’s beautiful and colorful illustrations. I hope they feel seen. I hope it helps facilitate meaningful conversations.

I love so many of the words used to describe a school.  Which word did you really make sure you included and explored in this book?

You’re asking so many amazing questions that I’ve never been asked before! Thank you for opening up this space to me. There are two words I had to include in This is a School: HEAL and LIBRARIANS. I think librarians can help heal hurts through the stories they add to their collections. Through the stories they booktalk. Through the stories they introduce to students’ hearts. In The Gift of Story: Exploring the Affective Side of the Reading Life, I write: Books can be the perfect prescriptions that let us know we’re going to be OK. We give students access to these lifelines and leave room for the magic.

Veronica Miller Jamison's artwork is fantastic and makes your words come to life!  The bright colors just invited you into the school!  And I loved watching the same children learn and explore and grow on each page!  I'm going to take a "Mr. Schu" prompt from your amazing blog and have you respond to "Veronica Miller Jamison's illustrations...."

Yes! Yes! Yes! Veronica’s artwork is fantastic! Her art is magnificent! She brings such energy and love to every page. 

Yay! I get to finish one of your sentences. Thank you! 

Veronica Miller Jamison’s illustrations make my heart smile.

Thanks for stopping by, Mr. Schu!

Thank you, Mrs. Knott! I hope we see each other one day soon!

Have you see the book trailer yet?  Be sure to share it with your young readers!

Candlewick Press has generously offered two copies of This Is a School for giveaway!  Enter by Friday, April 15th for your chance to win (U.S. residents)!

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Wave - a review - 3.24.22

When you think about waves, lots of visuals may come to your mind.  The waves in the ocean - at times quiet, other times volatile.  Maybe you think of sound waves hitting your ears as you listen to music that makes you want to move.  Movement is key to waves, and that is kind of what life is, right?  It's constantly moving.  Sometimes it's quiet, other times volatile.  Sometimes it makes you move, sometimes it can move you to tears.  This book is all of that and more.

by Diana Farid
published by cameron kids
publishes March 29, 2022

I'll give it to you straight.  This is a beautiful, but heartbreaking story.  There were tears.  But it's a story that will live inside me for awhile.  This is absolutely the middle grade story I would have loved to read as a middle schooler - first love, beautiful friendships, and a story that makes you feel deep into your heart.
We meet Ava in this story.  It's the 1980s, Ava is a Persian American living in SoCal with her single mother, father is in Paris... somewhere with his new family.  Ava has a beautiful soul, but she is a character that also has flaws.  She definitely has some OCD tendencies that interrupt her day.  She also can be full of self doubt and needs reassurance from those around her.  Ava loves surfboarding and music.  She enjoys being with her BFF, Naz, who is also Persian American and understands what it's like having two feet in two cultures.  Ava's other longtime BFF, Phoenix, lives across the way and she's known him forever.  Ava's been friends with him through his bout with lymphoma, and is just becoming aware of some new feelings she has for him.  But when Phoenix's lymphoma comes back with a vengeance, Ava really learns what it means to ride the waves.
This beautiful story is told in verse with gorgeous bold line drawings by artist Kris Goto sprinkled through the pages.  I could sense the additional movement through the illustrations that come with the lyrical words.  I love the choice of it being a novel in verse because it flows so well with the idea of waves and Ava's love of music.  The different 80s music references and mixtape playlists that are included at the end of the story are perfect for the way this story reads.  It is also infused with poetry by the great Persian poet, Rumi, and they add another layer of thought into the storyline.
I highly recommend this book for middle school libraries.  This novel in verse will reach so many readers and the way it delves into the reader's heart will make it a book that will be passed around by readers!

More about author Diana Farid:
Diana Farid is the author of When You Breathe, named a 2021 Notable Poetry Book by the National Council of Teachers of English; it was also awarded the California Reading Association's 2021 EUREKA! Gold Award for nonfiction children's book.  She is a poet and a physician at Stanford University.  Wave is her first middle grade novel.  For more information, visit dianafarid.com.

Twitter and Instagram: @_artelixir

Thank you to Barbara at Blue Slip Media and cameron kids publishing for the review copy!

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Bobcat Prowling - a review - 3.23.22

I bet you have some touchstone texts that you use year after year.  Those mentor texts that have more than just the story inside the cover in them.  One of mine is Coyote Moon by Maria Gianferrari.  We use it every year and I love how the story and the information draws in readers with every read.  Now the creators are back with another story that I'm sure will be a new favorite!

Bobcat Prowling by Maria Gianferrari
Bobcat Prowling
written by Maria Gianferrari
illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
published by Roaring Brook Press

This time we follow Yearling Bobcat.  He's just been pushed out of his territory by his mother because it's time for her to mate and raise a new litter.  Yearling must find his own territory now.  As he travels the area, multiple children get a view of Yearling as he hunts for food and searches for a new home.  Similar to Coyote Moon, we learn about an animal's hunting style, predators of the animal, and how the animal lives.  There is excitement as we hope Yearling finds something to eat, yet also hope the prey gets to see another day!  After some time, Yearling is now an adult Bobcat, and we eventually get to see him find his own territory (and a meal)!

I love Gianferrari's lyrical tone to these books.  While readers are gaining lots of information, you can't help but be enthralled with the way the words seem to dance as you read.

Ibatoulline's illustrations are just fantastic.  Readers always note the realistic drawings, and they really do feel like you can reach in and touch the animal's silky, soft fur!

I think one of my favorite parts of these books is in the backmatter.  Gianferrari adds an "All About" section that contains some fascinating facts and information!  Each fact adds to something Gianferrari has in the main text - for example, we know Yearling stays with his mom for a certain amount of time, but in this section Gianferrari tells us that yearlings (1-2 year old bobcats) typically leave their mother anywhere from nine months to two years old.  Of course my favorite fact is when Gianferrari asks us what a bobcat's favorite activity is?  It's inactivity!  Sometimes that doesn't seem like such a bad idea!

Within the first several pages, I thought we were going to learn more about the mother bobcat and her child.  But very quickly, we end up learning that we would be following Yearling's story.  I thought that was a great choice and asked Maria to tell us more about it.  Welcome, Maria!

A few years ago I gave a workshop on revision at my then local SCBWI chapter in Maryland. One of the ways I invited attendees to think about revising their projects was in terms of theme—what are the themes that they frequently explore, and how can amplifying those themes enrich their current WIPs? 

For me, the idea of home—as a place of comfort and safety, as a feeling of calm and community, is one which threads throughout all of my projects, both fiction and nonfiction. When I began to write the manuscript, I knew that having a young bobcat main character who’s searching for a home would blend drama, excitement, tension, and that finding that space would be the ultimate satisfying resolution, so it made sense to tell the story from the yearling’s perspective. In fact, the working title of the book was A Home for Bobcat, though during the revision process we decided to make it more active to emphasize the search for home, and prey, and to have it complement its companion predator books, Hawk Rising and Coyote Moon.

I love hearing more from an author.  It always gives me a new perspective of the story.  Framing it by the idea of home makes so much sense.  I need another read now to think about that theme that runs through the story!

Thank you so much for stopping by!  I hope you pick up a copy of Bobcat Prowling for your readers!

More about author, Maria Gianferrari:
Maria Gianferrari is a community scientist, self-taught naturalist, and bird nerd who holds an M.A. in Creative Writing and a Ph.D. in English. She is the author of narrative nonfiction picture books which celebrate urban ecosystems, the natural world and our wild neighbors. She also writes engaging expository nonfiction. And as a lover of dogs, Maria’s fiction picture books star dogs as main characters and explore the human-canine bond. She writes from her light-filled, book-lined study in Massachusetts with rescue dog, Maple at her side.

Would you like to win a copy of Bobcat Prowling?  Maria Gianferrari and Roaring Brook Press have generously offered a copy for giveaway (US Residents only).  Winner will be selected on Wednesday, March 30th.