Friday, April 14, 2017

Princess Cora and the Crocodile by Laura Amy Schlitz, illustrated by Brian Floca

From the moment she was born, Princess Cora’s parents have been training her how to be a Queen. The nanny makes sure that she takes baths so regularly that there is no dirt in sight. Cora’s mother, the Queen, makes sure that Cora studies so that she will be wise. But the books are so boring, Cora finds herself yawning. Her father, the King, makes sure that Cora grows into a strong queen, so he trains her to skip rope. Between the nanny, the Queen, and the King, Cora life is scheduled to the minute and no fun at all. So when Cora thinks that a family dog will help liven things up, she writes to her fairy godmother.
Dear Godmother,
Nobody listens to me. My mother and father won’t let me have a pet and Nanny says I don’t even want one. But I do. And I’m sick and tired of everything.
Please help me.
Princess Cora

What her Fairy Godmother sends isn't any old golden retriever...Cora gets a crocodile. And since Cora has had enough with the bathing, boring lessons, and rigorous exercise, the Crocodile so kindly offers to dress as Princess Cora for a that the real Cora can have the day off from “Queen training” that she’s always wanted.
Hilarious, fun and charming, Princess Cora and the Crocodile is an early chapter book that makes a wonderful read aloud for the whole family. This is a book that might be read a chapter a night over the course of a week.

Author Laura Amy Schlitz and illustrator Brian Floca are a heavyweight team. Schlitz won a Newbery Award in 2008 for her book, Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village, as well as a Newbery Honor in 2013 for her book Splendors and Glooms. Brian Floca won the Caldecott Medal in 2014 for his picture book about trains entitled Locomotive. With Schlitz’s words and Floca’s illustrations, Princess Cora and the Crocodile will become a classic.

Flora and the Chicks A Counting Book by Molly Idle

Has spring fever hit? For Flora, it means that her chicks have hatched! When she goes to feed the mother hen, the hen walks off the page...leaving Flora to count the newly hatched chicks! This counting book is full of exciting surprises behind every flap. From 1 to 10, Flora must take care of the little chicks as they hatch, but it gets harder to hold all the chicks in one place! When the 10th chick hatches, the mother hen returns, and all the chicks, and Flora, are happy to see her. Molly Idle’s character, the little girl Flora, has several other wordless picture books, including Flora and the Flamingo, Flora and the Penguins, and Flora and the Peacocks. The illustrations are so expressive that the reader has no trouble understanding Flora’s thoughts. In Flora and the Chicks, Flora will help children learn to count with the help of ten fluffy chicks!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion by M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Andrea Offerman

M.T. Anderson’s take on Athurian legend in Yvain: The Knight of the Lion is magnificently illustrated by Andrea Offerman in a most stunning graphic novels. Chrétien de Troyes is the original author of Yvain, le chevalier au lion, written in the 13th century. Most of the stories that readers associate with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table stem from the epic poems of Chrétien de Troyes.
Sir Yvain is a knight in King Arthur’s Court, and when Sir Calogrenant returns from the enchanted forest of Brocéliande gravely injured by wounds from a mysterious Red Knight, Yvain quietly leave Arthur’s castle to avenge his cousin, Calogrenant. Yvain, too, pours water over a stone in the enchanted pool in the forest of Brocéliande. Amidst a turbulent swirling storm, the Red Knight emerges to challenge Yvain for disturbing his dukedom. Yvain, defending himself and avenging his cousin, delivers some fatal sword blows to the Red Knight, and he chases the Red Knight on horseback as he rides into his own castle. The Red Knight, it turns out, is the Lord Esclados, and Yvain is now trapped in his enemy’s castle with many who are looking for the man who killed their lord.
The sorceress Lunette takes pity on Yvain, and to hide him from those who would want him dead, turns him invisible. It is while invisible that Yvain falls in love with the Lady Laudine, the widow of Lord Esclados. She is a commanding presence, with fiery red eyes and a mane of red hair. Laudine wishes to avenge the man that killed her husband, but Lunette poses the question of who is the better knight--the one who died or the one who did not? Laudine has to concede that Yvain is the better knight, and since her castle is now unprotected, she must consent to marry Yvain, even though everything shown through the illustrations indicates that it is a marriage of political necessity.
When Gawain, another knight and cousin of Yvain, comes to visit Yvain, he challenges Yvain’s knighthood, saying, “Throw off your harness, old man, spit out your bit, and prove you’re still a warrior, not a dreamer.” Yvain, feeling pressured to prove himself, begs for Laudine to allow him to travel and compete to defend his knighthood. Laudine, disdainful, agrees, saying, “I grant you permission to leave, but there’s a time limit: one year to the day. Understand? If you come back after that, my love will absolutely turn to hatred.”
Yvain sets out to prove his valor among the other bumbling knights. And when he is fool enough to not return in the time limit set by his wife...that’s when things get interesting.
For fans of Arthurian lore and legend, M.T. Anderson’s Yvain: The Knight of the Lion is a masterpiece with Yvain, Laudine, and Lunette as a compelling cast of characters. Offerman’s striking illustrations bring this ancient story into the 21st century, making it appropriate for the modern young reader.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel by Kimberly Willis Holt

When thirteen-year-old Stevie Grace’s life is uprooted from Taos, New Mexico to live with the grandfather she never knew existed in Little Esther, Texas, she is not happy about landing at the Texas Sunrise Motel. The motel is rundown and the people that live there are charming, if a bit odd. Little by little, Stevie starts to trust the community around her, as they welcome her. There’s Miss Violet, who always wears clothes from the “Lost and Found collection” at the motel, and who loves classic movie marathons. Horace and Ida, both in wheelchairs, are constantly complaining about the broken washing machine and threatening to leave. Arlo and Roy, a father and son who help with the upkeep of the motel, are also among the first to befriend Stevie. Stevie begins to learn who her mother was as a young girl, as she is tutored by the elderly and narcoleptic Mrs. Crump, who also taught Stevie’s mother too. The trouble is, Mrs. Crump falls asleep before Stevie gets to ask her anything! And when Stevie’s aunt invites her to stay in Louisiana, she is torn between living with her father’s sister, or returning to her grandfather and the Texas Sunrise Motel, where a little garden she has planted is starting to bloom.

Kimberly Willis Holt won the National Book Award for her middle grade novel, When Zachary Beaver Comes to Town. Her stories are always filled with humor and heart, and Blooming at the Texas Sunrise Motel for kids 8-12 is no exception.

Kimberly Willis Holt

Friday, March 17, 2017

This House, Once by Deborah Freedman

Deborah Freedman, an architect turned picture book writer and illustrator, has written and illustrated a new picture book that takes a poetic look at houses and homes. This House, Once explores all of the elements that go into the history of a house and asks the reader to think, “where do you live, and what was your home, once?”
The house on the cover is drawn page by page, and brick by brick, the illustrations appear. The first lines read: “This door was once a colossal oak tree/about three hugs around/and as high as the blue,” and on the opposite page is a square door with a red doorknob. Turn the page, and that door is now a square in an oak tree. The house, blanketed in snow, has a warm fire that warms the house from within, and the bricks and the stones and the slate are all drawn individually, and then come together to create a beautiful home.
Freedman’s illustrations evoke splashing in the mud, looking up high at the tall oak tree, and sitting cozily in front of a fire during a blizzard. This gorgeous book makes you think about your own history, and how often, what the earth gives us, we need to give back in return.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Dance by Matthew Van Fleet

Are you ready to….dance? Shake a tail feather with Matthew Van Fleet’s adorable interactive board book, titled DANCE. The entire premise of the book is that a little newborn chick does not know how to dance, so it is up to the other older and wiser animals to teach him!

From the first page, you’ll be clapping your hands to the beat.

“Hey, Chickie Baby,” said the rhino at the door. “How ‘bout we shake some tail feathers out there on the floor?”
“I’d love to,” said the little Chickie Baby, “but I can’t. I just hatched yesterday and I don’t know how to dance.”

Hula Hippo teaches Chickie how to shake, Bunny teaches the Bouncy Bunny Hop, Gator teaches Chickie the Gator Mashed Potater. There are even tap-dancing pigs! Make all the animals dance by pulling on the tab. By the end of the book, you’ll be shaking, tapping, hopping and bopping around. Get up and DANCE with Matthew Van Fleet’s newest interactive board book. Find the song that accompanies the book at VANFLEETBOOKS.COM

Friday, February 24, 2017

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

“It took seven years to get the letter right.”

This is the first line of Carval, the enchanting and mysterious Y.A. novel written by Stephanie Garber.

Every year for seven years, Scarlett writes a letter to the master of Caraval, Master Legend. She begs him to visit the Isle of Trisda, so that she can give her sister Donatella the best birthday present ever: a ticket to Caraval. Scarlett and Donatella grew up listening to their grandmother’s stories of Caraval. And on the eve of her marriage, Scarlett writes one last letter to Master Legend, telling him she’s given up, and that it will be the last letter she writes. And in return, she receives tickets to attend Caraval with her sister and her fiance, a man she has never met.
Caraval is both spectacle and dangerous game. Nothing is as it seems in the world of Caraval, and nobody is to be trusted. Scarlett has decided that going to Caraval is too much of a risk, and would ruin her chances of escaping a brutal father. So her sister arranges for Scarlett to be kidnapped, with the promise that she will be returned before her wedding in ten days time. When Scarlett arrives at Caraval, she learns that this year’s game at Caraval is to find Donatella, who has gone missing.

Luscious description, funny and vibrant characters, and a mystery at every turn, readers will find themselves sucked into the world of Caraval that Garber has created. For fans of The Night Circus, readers will not be able to put Caraval down.

Stephanie Garber, author of Caraval

Fish Girl by David Wiesner & Donna Jo Napoli

Fish Girl is an incredible collaboration between Donna Jo Napoli and David Wiesner. A modern-day fairy tale told as a graphic novel, Wiesner’s illustrations show the reader a house that is also an aquarium, known as “Ocean Wonders,” and inside Ocean Wonders lives Fish Girl. Napoli’s words accompany the illustrations, giving the glimpse into the mind of Fish Girl, who cannot talk. There is a room, perfectly preserved underwater, and visitors to the aquarium try to catch a glimpse of the elusive mermaid while “Neptune” swings a trident that controls the waves, calling out:

“The Fish Girl! She is the mystery that lives in that lovely room. Look at her beautiful dresses and jewelry--all underwater! The Fish Girl! What is she? Is she fish or is she girl? You are fortunate to be here, for she is the last of her kind, and she can be seen only at Ocean Wonders!”

This is the only world that Fish Girl has ever known. Her only friends are the other fish in the aquarium, and an orange octopus. If, during visiting hours, she does a good job swimming around so that she’s not seen, but gives curious visitors a glimpse of her tail, Neptune rewards her with a story of how he rescued her when she was a baby. When Livia, a girl about the same age as Fish Girl goes to the restricted area of the aquarium, she actually sees the mermaid. Fish Girl is also curious about the human girl, and Livia gives her a name: Mira. Mira and Livia become friends, and Mira starts to see Neptune for who he really is: a fraud. How can she escape her house tank, when Neptune controls the air filter, the water, and her food? Mira starts to yearn for real friendships after meeting Livia, and begins to take her destiny in her own hands.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

I knew as I saw this cover I was in for a treat: a little unicorn floating underwater, wearing an oxygen mask, with the words, “Not Quite Narwhal.”

Kelp was born deep in the ocean, but he isn’t exactly like the other narwhals. He is very clearly a unicorn, and kids will find this fact amusing--after all, a unicorn living with narwhals isn’t something you see everyday in a picture book. Yes, Kelp also has a “tusk” but it wasn’t as long as the other narwhal’s tusks. And he wasn’t the best swimmer, as is shown by him wearing yellow floaties. But one day, when the current whisks him to the surface, he sees a majestic creature standing in the moonlight--and this creature looks just like Kelp! Kelp is frightened of walking on land, and it isn’t easy, but he perseveres. He journeys through a dark forest, worried he will never find the majestic, sparkling creature he saw from the ocean.

In perhaps one of the cutest and funniest scenes, Kelp happens upon a field of creatures just like him and yelps, “Land Narwhals!” To which a unicorn replies, “Actually, we’re unicorns. And, by the looks of it, so are you!” But can Kelp be both a land narwhal or a sea unicorn? Will he have to choose?

Jessie Sima’s precious illustrations and delightful characters, and the fact that the children reading this story are complicit in the secret that Kelp is a unicorn, not a narwhal, will delight young readers ages 4 to 7.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Love Is by Diane Adams, illustrated by Claire Keane

How do you explain the concept of love to a child? There are many ways to say what love is, and Diane Adams’ picture book Love Is explains love to children in a way that they can understand. Claire Keane’s illustrations are bright and full of childhood whimsy. In Love Is, a little girl learns what love is by caring for a duckling that has escaped from a park.

“Love is holding something fragile,
tiny wings and downy head.
Love is noisy midnight feedings,
Shoe box right beside the bed.”

"Love is waking up together,
side by side, and beak to nose."

Eventually, the duck grows larger and must leave the shoebox beside the little girl’s bed and return to the pond. And the little girl learns that sometimes, that’s what love is too.

This is the perfect little story for Valentine’s day around the corner, but will work year-round as well.

Illustration by Claire Keane from Love Is

Friday, January 27, 2017

Interview Session with Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give

In August of 2015, I met Angie when she had just signed with her agent. She was excited, hopeful, but also nervous. She didn't know how a book influenced by Black Lives Matter would work for a YA story. Over a year later, The Hate U Give is going to be a movie (starring Amandla Stenberg as Starr), and Angie (and T.H.U.G.) are getting ready to take the world by storm. Angie was kind enough to answer some questions before embarking on her tour! Here is a review of The Hate U Give.

Where are you from? Tell me about the journey that led you to where you are now.

I was born, raised, and still reside in Jackson, Mississippi. I’ve told stories for as long as I can remember—I used to write Mickey Mouse fanfiction when I was six. But I never thought that I could be an author until I was in college, studying Creative Writing. I actually wrote the short story that became The Hate U Give while I was in my senior year. It took me a few years after college though to decide to make it a novel. Even after I wrote it, I was afraid that the topic may not be appropriate for YA. So when a literary agency held a question and answer session on Twitter, I asked if the topic was appropriate. An agent not only responded and said yes, he asked to see my manuscript. A few months later, I signed with him, and a few months after that we were in a 13-publishing house auction.

When did you know you needed to write this book?

Like I said, I first wrote it as a short story during my senior year of college, back in 2010/2011 after the shooting of Oscar Grant in Oakland, California. Like my main character, Starr, I was living in two different worlds—my neighborhood that most people called “the hood” and my upper class, mostly-white college. By being in these two different worlds, I heard two very different takes on the case. At my school, he was seen as a thug who deserved what he got, but in my community he was one our own. My anger, fear, and frustration led me to write the story. I put it aside after graduation, but as more of these cases continued to happen, I found myself angry, afraid, and frustrated again. So I did the only thing I knew how to do – I wrote.

Black Lives Matter is…

An organization and a movement. I don’t think a lot of people realize there’s a difference between the two. (And for the record, I’m not affiliated with the organization). It’s also a statement. It is not saying that only black lives matter or that black lives matter more. All lives should matter, indeed, but we have a systemic problem in this country in which black lives don’t matter enough. Black lives matter, too.

Tell us a little bit about Starr. Why did you use her voice to tell the story? She starts out so unsure of herself, and it was amazing watching her grow and come into her own.

I know plenty of Starrs in my neighborhood; I was a bit of a Starr myself growing up. She’s in two different worlds where she has to be two different people, and she’s still trying to figure out which one is truly her. I think a lot of people can relate to that. Also, there is this stereotype that black women, especially young black women, are loud and harsh, and I wanted to crush that stereotype with this character.

There is a moment where Starr is in the car with Chris, and she says to him, “I don’t need you to agree...Just try to understand how I feel. Please?” And I felt like this was a powerful line that white people need to hear from black people.

That’s one of my favorite lines, actually J. I think if more people understood why black people are so upset when another unarmed black person is killed, it would help bring about change. These cases always become political, but for so many of us they are personal. They need to become personal for all of us.

Another moment that I felt was really powerful is between Ms. Ofrah (Starr’s attorney) and Starr.
“Who said talking isn’t doing something? [Ms. Ofrah] says. “It’s more productive than silence. Remember what I told you about your voice?’
‘You said it’s my biggest weapon.’
‘And I mean that.’”

That’s another one of my favorites J (Is it ok for an author to like something they wrote? Haha.) I hope that more people realize just how powerful their voices are, especially in our current political climate. Fighting is not always about violence; sometimes it’s about speaking out. Our voices can change things.

This story is fiction, and yet, it is a real look into casual racism, blatant racism, and both sides of the police equation (Starr’s uncle is also a policeman)—and this is just the tip of the iceberg. In many ways, Starr’s story is not fiction. It is the story of every black person who has been a witness to injustice, time and time again.
What is your hope for The Hate U Give?

My ultimate hope is that it will help people realize that empathy is stronger than sympathy.

Author Angie Thomas
photo by Anissa Hidouk

Thanks for stopping by, Angie!

Mark your calendars for February 28th and pre-order a signed (and personalized!) copy of The Hate U Give from Lemuria Books.