Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Explorers Guild: A Passage to Shambhala, Volume One by Jon Baird, Kevin Costner, Stephen Meyer, illustrated by Rick Ross

The Explorers Guild: A Passage to Shambhala, Volume One, is an epic tale told in the vein of Rudyard Kipling or Jules Verne, and has the feel of The Adventures of TinTin. In the letter at the beginning of the book, the series curator, E. W. Blake, pens a letter to those who dare to open this first volume. 

“Gentle Reader: It is modernity’s boast, of course, that man has mapped and measured, claimed and contested this earth down to its last inch. He has tamed its moods and subdued its monsters, and lit it from end to end with the fires of ingenuity. So we are assured. Yet we who have been canvassing this same earth though the centuries—who have been every place on it that you would care to go, and many more that you would not—we incline to a different view.” 

The mission of the Explorers Guild is to find exactly that—the Unknown World, to search solely with the desire to know, from the Latin Cognoscere, to delve into the mysteries from the Arabian desert to the Arctic Poles. This first adventure takes place from 1912-1918, and while the First World War wages, the key players in the Explorers Guild are the Ogden brothers John and Arthur and their sister, Frances. As the title suggests, the adventure, full of fisticuffs, a pack of fierce soldiers loyal to the illusive John Ogden, is to find the hidden Buddhist kingdom of Shambhala. 

Scattered throughout, illustrations by Rick Ross bring the golden age of adventure to life. The storytelling is dense and masterful. Teens will discover this book is a treasure trove to get lost in this summer. For those who love Indiana Jones, secret societies, and storytelling at its finest, pick up The Explorers Guild. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

What better way to kick off this summer than by reading a tale about children trapped inside of a haunted Scottish castle?

The children of a British spy, siblings Katherine (Kat), Rob, and Amelie are sent to live and study at Rookskill Castle Children’s Academy far away from London on the Scottish moors during the remainder of the 1940 Blitz. They quickly befriend Peter Williams, an American child living in London, who is also sent to Rookskill Castle.

When the children arrive in the spooky dawn after the long train ride, they are met with the cold countenance of Lady Eleanor Craig, the mistress of the castle. She is clearly hiding something, and rules the boarding school with an iron fist. As the children start disappearing one-by-one, and are being written off as “sick” without further explanation, the doors to their rooms locked, even level-headed Kat starts to think there are supernatural forces at work. It is up to her and her code-cracking skills inherited from her father that she starts to believe the castle is harboring an enemy. The question is whether the enemy is a Nazi spy or a ghost.

The characters of Kat, Rob, Amelie, and Peter are reminiscent of the four Pevensie children from The Chronicles of Narnia. With chapters that alternate between the castle’s shadowy past and present, Janet Fox skillfully brings together myth, history, and haunted castles into a great mystery that will keep the reader guessing until the end.

Review originally appeared in The Clarion Ledger.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Books for the Backseat

Planning a Road Trip this Summer? These backseat books will keep children age 4-7 entertained.

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat

The refrain is a familiar one. Maybe an hour into the road trip, a voice pipes up from the backseat, asking, “Are we there yet?” This is the refrain uttered throughout Are We There Yet, written and illustrated by Caldecott Medal Winner Dan Santat, author and illustrator of Beekle. A family of three is driving to celebrate Grandma’s birthday. The narrator, a young boy, thinks the trip is taking forever, a familiar feeling for small children. 

He says, “The car trip to visit Grandma is always exciting! But after the first hour, it can feel like an eternity.”

Are We There Yet? explores what happens when your brain gets too bored…and apparently, that means time goes backwards! Santat cleverly employs tricks such as turning the book upside down and flipping pages right to left, making the reader travel backwards in time alongside the family in the book. Buckle up and come along for the ride! 

Santat ensures that the reader will most definitely NOT be bored as they follow the family in a little orange car back through the stage coach era, to when pirates rule the high seas, even going so far back to see the ancient Egyptians at work. The reader will travel back in time millions of years to when dinosaurs walked the earth. Finally, the little boy thinks, something exciting! And since his brain is no longer bored, the book fast-forwards to October 24, 2059. Oops! Too far into the future—the family has missed the birthday party! When they finally arrive, just in time for the birthday party, there is no better time than the present.

For a fantastic preview of the book click the video below, provided by Little Brown, Books for Young Readers.

Our Great Big Backyard by Laura Bush and Jenna Bush Hager, illustrated by Jacqueline Rogers

The former First Lady and her daughter have teamed up to write a picture book just in time for summer! In Our Great Big Backyard, Jane can’t wait to play videogames with her friends all summer, but her parents have different plans. Along with her little brother Sam, they’ll be taking the Great American Road Trip. Jane is less than thrilled to be riding in the backseat without any Wi-Fi, but as they travel to more and more parks, Jane starts to notice the amazing sites around her. From the Everglades National Park all the way to Yosemite, Jane has fun with her brother Sam out in the wilderness. 

“The mountain went up and up and up, straight into the sky, watching over us. I felt really small but really great, too, like I was part of something big." 

When Jane gets home, she realizes that even in her backyard she can see the stars, and invites her friends over for a camp out. Even better, if you and your family are planning a trip this summer, there is a listing of National Parks in the back of the book to help you see what might be in your own backyard. 

Original to The Clarion Ledger.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Heads and Tails by Madeleine Deny, illus. Peggy Nile

Heads and Tails is a Let’s Step™ Books to Grow On book that encourages active participation in the reading of the book. Peggy Nile’s delightful illustrations reflect those animals drawn by Richard Scarry. A board book, each page is cut out into the shape of an animal. Babies and toddlers will learn different animals by flipping each page, revealing the next animal. From the smallest mouse to the largest elephant, each animal asks, “But who comes next?” Each animal is also associated with a sound, and keywords are highlighted in bold. “Splash! The frog jumps into the water!”

Chronicle’s new imprint, Twirl, contains a plethora of immersive, educational and fun books for babies and toddlers. Heads and Tails is the perfect book for ages 0 to 3 that combines bright colors, animals, and sounds.

Watch the adorable video demonstrating the best way to read Heads and Tails from Chronicle Books.

Friday, May 27, 2016

YA Reads to Start Your Summer

Summer is a great time to read all the books that you haven’t had time to read during the school year. This year, there are so many great books to choose from to take on vacation or read poolside. Below are some choice favorites for the beginning of summer.

With Malice by Eileen Cook (Available 6/7/2016)
Two friends go to Italy as a graduation gift. When one ends up dead and the other ends up in the hospital with no recollection of the trip, what really happened?

The Museum of Heartbreak by Meg Leder (Available 6/7/2016)
“I can’t stop them: The dinosaurs are leaving New York City.”
What a great first line! A quirky, lovable protagonist who falls in love and collects trinkets along the way, while falling for the wrong guy. How do dinosaurs factor in? Pick up this book and read it in one sitting!

The Crown’s Game by Evelyn Skye
Doomed love. Enchanters locked in a fierce battle to the death. Imperial Russia. What’s not to love? Check out the whole review here.

Love and Gelato by Jenna Evans Welch
When Lina’s mother dies of cancer, her last wish is for Lina to go live in Italy with her father she never knew existed. As Lina discovers more about her mother’s past, the beautiful hillsides of Tuscany offer friendship, love, and of course, gelato.

The Land of 10,000 Madonnas by Kate Hattemer
Jesse and his father live in an apartment wallpapered with postcards of Madonnas. After his young life is cut short by a hole in his heart, he writes a note to his cousin Cal: “I’m dead and you’ve got my notebook.” Another “last wish” book that sends the people left behind on a mission, Jesse planned for the five people he knew best to go to Europe following his death. His cousins, best friend and girlfriend are all sent on a wild goose chase across Europe that helps them come to terms with Jesse’s death. I especially loved the strong voices in this book, and the cast of characters is fun to follow.
Kate Hattemer is also the author of The Vigilante Poets of Selwyn Academy.

A Fierce and Subtle Poison by Samantha Mabry
Lucas Knight, an American teenager who visits Old San Juan every summer for his father’s contracting business, gets swept up into a murder mystery. A girl whose touch is poisonous (literally), hidden secrets in locked up houses, and the lush world of Puerto Rico combine to make an excellent summer read. Read the entire review here!

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
Solomon Reed is perfectly fine, except he’s not, because he hasn’t left his house since the seventh grade, which was three years ago. But he’s happy being an agoraphobe. His whole life can be taken care of from inside of his house--school, food, and even friends. When Lisa Praytor needs to write an essay about “My personal experience with mental illness” to be accepted into Woodlawn University’s psychology program, she decides that curing Solomon of his agoraphobia is going to be her ticket into the program. Lisa and her boyfriend Clark befriend Solomon as part of the project, but then actually become friends with him. John Corey Whaley’s writing is sharp, funny, and incredibly real.

The Unexpected Everything by Morgan Matson
This is the quintessential summer book. Andie Walker is working a job she never thought she would have as a dog walker, but it leads her to Clark, a famous author who is trying to write the next book in his series. Andie’s summer becomes completely unexpected, but in the best way possible. Read the entire review here!

The Fall of Butterflies by Andrea Portes
Willa Parker of What Cheer, Iowa, moves east at the behest of her mother to start a new life at an exclusive prep school called Pembroke Prep. From the middle of the country to the center of the glittering socialite world, Willa meets Remy Taft. When Remy decides to befriend Willa, Willa thinks that her troubles of fitting in are over, but nothing is ever enough for Remy. The Fall of Butterflies was a quick read and one that fans of We Were Liars will enjoy.

The Last Boy and Girl In the World by Siobhan Vivian
“You’re officially the last girl in Aberdeen.” Keeley Hewitt’s world is underwater. The world is coming to an end. And it might be her last shot with the boy she’s always wanted to take a chance with. The world won’t wait forever.

The Crown's Game by Evelyn Skye

The Crown’s Game is full of mystery, magic, and intrigue. And of course, Russian history and folklore.

Vika, as fiery as her red hair, lives on the isolated and tiny Ovchinin Island. Her magic is wild and acts in a way that imitates nature. Nikolai is an orphan who has grown up in the city of the tsar, St. Petersburg, and who has grown as close as a brother to the crown prince, Pasha. Nikolai’s magic works as smoothly as a clock’s gears, integrating itself into the very infrastructure of the city.

Two enchanters. Only one can win the title of Imperial Enchanter and assist the tsar. For the other, imminent death awaits.

In the introduction to The Crown’s Game, the game itself is explained.

The Crown’s Game is an old one, older than the tsardom itself. It began long ago, in the age of Rurik, Prince of Novgorod, when Russia was still a cluster of tribes, wild and lawless and young. As the country matured over the centuries, so too, did the game. But always, always it retained its untamed fierceness.

For the winner of the game, there would be imaginable power.
For the defeated, desolate oblivion.
The Crown’s Game was not one to lose.

Vika and Nikolai compete for the title of Imperial Enchanter, each act of magic more dangerous than the last. They both fight to win, but how can you defeat the one person you love? In the meantime, Pasha begins to decipher that the elaborate “decorations” and illusions around the city might be more than just smoke and mirrors, while also falling for the flame-haired girl.

For fans of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus set against the backdrop of Imperial Russia, Evelyn Skye’s world comes to life in vivid color. As a scholar of Russian history and literature, Skye expertly creates an alternate universe for Imperial Russia; one that, while she takes some creative liberties, feels like a perfect merging of fact and fiction. A historical fantasy of the best kind, The Crown’s Game will have you wishing for more.

Author of The Crown's Game, Evelyn Skye

Friday, May 20, 2016

Interview Session: Peter Brown

When Peter visited Lemuria Books back in April, we sat down to talk about his newest book for kids: The Wild Robot. Charting a new path by writing a chapter book, this book is heartfelt, has adorable characters, and full of strange and mysterious things while at the same time feels very familiar. Many thanks to Peter for answering my questions! 

Peter Brown and Clara Martin stand by a life size Roz!

How did you enter the world of children’s books and illustrating books for kids?

PB: I studied animation at the Art Center College of Design. I wanted to make characters come to life. Once I experienced [animation] up close, it was not as comfortable as I thought.

Why did you switch to illustration?

PB: I was studying illustration the whole time, and when I realized that animation wasn’t right for me, I still loved characters and children’s books, so that was a way for me to continue creating characters. My books are like little short films. I’m the director, the costume designer, and I control the lighting.

What are your favorite children’s books?

PB: Frog and Toad Are Friends and Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things That Go. I fell in love with the Hobbit too. I wasn’t much of a reader, but I loved making stories. Since I wasn’t a fast reader I did not spend as much time reading.

What artists or animators have inspired you?

PB: Eyvind Earle. He was a Disney artist responsible for the look of Sleeping Beauty. His art is so graphic, bold, and textual. He was a real influence on me.

What was your first book?

PB: The Flight of the Dodo. I graduated and moved to New York City and started making picture books for kids. I fell in love with words. Eventually, I fell so in love with words that I made a novel.

That first novel is The Wild Robot. Tell me a little about it.

PB: I first got the idea when I was writing The Curious Garden. The total time to write, from the initial idea to the completed project, was eight years. I spent two-and-a-half years actually working on it. The first years were important.

What was your favorite animal to write about in The Wild Robot?

PB: Roz’s adopted son, Brightbill. Geese are interesting animals because we don’t think of them as such. They have interesting behaviors like migrating and imprinting. A gosling was perfect for my story because in the real world geese can imprint on people, so maybe they can imprint on a robot. I was also able to touch on real human emotions, such as “leaving the nest.”

What surprised you about Roz?

PB: She’s a robot. I was surprised by the similarities between my robot main character and myself. We have to find that little voice in our mind and explore that. I like a strict routine; I’m a creature of habit and a perfectionist, all things in common with Roz.

What upcoming projects do you have next?

PB: A sequel to The Wild Robot. There is no title yet. The second book will be as surprising and intriguing as the first one.

Peter speaks to captivated students at a school.