Tag: middle grade

Book Reviews are Moving!

While I hope my book reviews move you emotionally, in this case I’m talking about a change in location.

I love reviewing books for so many reasons:

I have been reviewing books on my blog for a couple of years now. But over time I’ve noticed a shift in how people engage with book reviews.

I’ve been sharing book reviews informally on social media for a while. I noticed that social media review get more reach than do blog posts. Reading will happen no matter where I share, but if I want to reach readers and shine a light on good books, I need to go where the people are.

 

After a lot of thought (and some handwringing) I have decided to shift to reviewing books on my social media accounts – primarily Instagram. My account is open, so you can view it without creating an Instagram account, though I do reshare to Twitter and Facebook as well.

 

View this post on Instagram

 

This book… *Sharp exhale* 📚 I read a lot, y’all. This is my 69th novel or novel-length book in 2018. So when I say this book is a rare gem, I know what I’m talking about. I’ve read a lot of middle grade books that deal with tough topics, but this left me gutted. 📚 I mean that in the best way possible. 📚 This is one of those books that gets you so deep in the feels that you end up screaming at the characters on the page. That will have you sobbing or throwing the book across the room. 📚 This book GETS IT in a way that’s hard to describe if you’ve never had your back against a wall. If you’ve never had to claw your way to a better life with nothing but determination and your fingernails. 📚 I will be thinking about THE BENEFITS OF BEING AN OCTOPUS for years to come. . #booksofinstagram #books #bookrecommendations #bookreview #kidlit #kidlitpicks #middlegrade #thebenefitsofbeinganoctopus @annbradenbooks

A post shared by Angela Isaacs (@aisaacswrites) on

 

I will still do some larger book review posts – like my yearly holiday season list of books for all ages and lists that cover topics that aren’t addressed other places.

2018 List of Books to give to kids: Kids books for every age and stage: Baby to Teen and everything in between

Here’s to more reading!

Horse books for Kids: True stories and Favorite Fiction

Horse Stories for Kids: True Stories and Favorite Fiction

Deb Aronson HeadshotFor this month’s Kidlit book roundup, I’m happy to welcome my friend, Deb Aronson. Deb was one of my first writer friends; she welcomed me into our local writer community way back when I was just beginning to learn the ropes. Somehow she stayed my friend despite seeing those early draft.  *Shudder*

We’re still friends all these years later and maybe one day I’ll even let her convince me to get on her sailboat. (Maybe…)

Today Deb shares some of her favorite books about horses. Deb knows a thing or two about horses – she wrote the book Alexandra the Great: The Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack. Take it away, Deb!

Book Cover Art: Alexandra the Great: the Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack by Deb Aronson


 

Many classic horse stories celebrate the magical connection between humans and horses, of course. Some of my favorites include My Friend Flicka, Misty of Chincoteague, and War Horse. But with racehorse stories, there is an added layer of human and horse joined in an effort to realize their full potential. To me, these stories have a special energy.

Book Cover art: MY FRIEND FLICKA   Book cover art: Misty of Chincoteague    Book Cover Art: War Horse

Do You Love Sports Stories? Then give these books a try.

Racehorse stories are, at their heart, sports stories. Those that excel are just as Olympian in their achievements as swimmer Michael Phelps or gymnast Simone Biles. There is the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. There is the love and care the horse’s human handlers feel for their special horses. They communicate deeply, even if they do it without words. Granted there are also tragic tales at the racetrack, such as when a horse breaks down from a bad step, or when a jockey falls and is permanently injured. There is risk. But for every story of risk there is also the possibility of redemption.

Rachel Alexandra At the Kentucky Oaks
The filly, Rachel Alexandra, at the Kentucky Oaks

If you hesitate to read about racehorses because of the stories you hear about them being mistreated, I would say to you that those stories are aberrations. True horsemen and horsewomen do not do that to their charges. They care deeply about their horses, even more deeply in some cases than for their human connections. Not surprisingly, you will not read children’s books about those kinds of people.

 

The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him by Lawrence Scanlan

Tween Nonfiction

Book Cover Art for: The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him

So, let me tell you about some of my favorite racehorse stories. One is The Big Red Horse: The Story of Secretariat and the Loyal Groom Who Loved Him, by Lawrence Scanlan (Harper Collins). Secretariat won the Triple Crown in 1973. He won the last race in the series, the Belmont, by a shattering 31 lengths and his time remains the American record for 1.5 miles on dirt more than four decades later. Scanlan does a great job showing Secretariat’s laid-back personality and his love of racing. It comes as no surprise that any true story about a horse will also tell the story of that horse’s handlers. In Scanlan’s book, we enjoy learning about Secretariat’s devoted groom, Eddie Sweat, and the special bond the two of them had.

 

Come on Seabiscuit! by Ralph Moody

Tween Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Come on, Seabiscuit!

Another inspiring story is Come on Seabiscuit! by Ralph Moody (University of Nebraska Press). There have been many books written about Seabiscuit, including the highly acclaimed adult book, Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand, not to mention a movie. Moody’s book is targeted for upper middle grade readers and has several pencil sketches, though no photographs.  One reason Seabiscuit’s story is so grand is because it is truly one of redemption. Set in the 1930s, it is a story of how the love, expertise and careful attention of trainer Tom Smith and jockey Red Pollard created a bond so wonderful that Seabiscuit changed from an ornery, nervous, injured and slow racehorse to a gentle, calm, strong champion who beat War Admiral, winner of the Triple Crown and the acknowledged champion horse of the country.

 

Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse by Meghan McCarthy

Picture Book Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse

Although Come on Seabiscuit is for older readers, a more recent picture book by Meghan McCarthy, Seabiscuit the Wonder Horse (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers) would be a great read-aloud for younger readers. McCarthy’s illustrations are delightful and she does a great job of telling the story of Seabiscuit’s match race with War Admiral.

American Pharoah: Triple Crown Champion by Shelley Fraser Mickle

Tween, Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: American Pharaoh: Triple Crown Champion

In American Pharoah: Triple Crown Champion (Aladdin), by Shelley Fraser Mickle, we learn the backstory of the 2015 Triple Crown winner, American Pharoah. Mickle tells American Pharoah’s story in such detail you can imagine being there in the stall with the even-tempered stallion. I also came away from the story with a better understanding of many of the humans connected with American Pharoah, from famous trainer, Bob Baffert, and jockey Victor Espinoza, to owner Ahmed Zayat, who I especially came to appreciate.

 

Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack by Gare Joyce

Tween, Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack

And finally, I recently enjoyed a book about a less well-known racehorse, Northern Dancer.  In 1964 he was, as the book says, “the biggest newsmaker in the country’s sporting scene.” Northern Dancer is another story of an unlikely hero. He was not a regal-looking racehorse, but more in the model of Seabiscuit: chunky, short and plain looking. Having been bred in Canada, U.S. racing fans tended to underestimate him. Gare Joyce, the author of Northern Dancer: King of the Racetrack, describes him as “a horse with a competitive spirit and a lot of heart, so he was able to outrun a great number of better bred and more imposing horses.” Who doesn’t love an underdog story?!

 

Alexandra the Great: The True Story of the Record-Breaking Filly Who Ruled the Racetrack by Deb Aronson

Tween, Nonfiction

Book Cover Art: Alexandra the Great: the Story of the Record-Breaking Filly who Ruled the Racetrack by Deb Aronson

 

Although all these books are about male horses, I wouldn’t want you to think there are not accomplished fillies in the racing world too. However, the surprising thing is how few children’s books there are about them. One of the few is Alexandra the Great: The True Story of the Record-Breaking Filly Who Ruled the Racetrack (Chicago Review Press), written by yours truly. Because she raced against, and beat, male horses in three major races, hers is truly a girl power story. This book is the only one of those reviewed that has full-color photographs throughout the text.

 

See Racehorses in action!

If you enjoy these stories I would also recommend you watch some videos of their most famous races; these thoroughbreds are running machines!

Here is Rachel Alexandra winning the Preakness.


Horse books for kids

 

How a Children’s Book is Made: Part 1. The Truth About Illustrations

How Children's books are Made: Part 1. The Truth About Illustrations

Being an author is a funny thing: everyone has heard of your job. (Unlike my husband – a systems architect.)

But people don’t know what it is I actually do. (My husband and I have that one in common.)

Whether you’re a writer hoping to publish a book or a kidlit lover who is curious about the process, this series is the place to find out what really goes into making books for kids.

 


 

I’m a writer, not an illustrator. So it may seem odd that I would start off a series on making picture books by talking about illustrations.

Yet, when I tell people about being a children’s book author, the number one thing people ask about is the illustration of my books.

It comes up in a variety of ways:

  • How did you meet your illustrator?
  • I want to publish a book – how do I find an illustrator?
  • I’m an artist – can I illustrate your next book?
  • How did you know what to put on each page?

But however the conversation starts, it inevitably leads to me dropping this truth bomb on them:

Children’s book authors do not pick our illustrators.

And then comes the flurry of questions:

  • Wait, then how do you get an illustrator?
  • How does the illustrator know what images to make?
  • But…. what if the illustrator gets it wrong?
  • And why does it work this way?

So let’s tackle these one at a time.

 

How Do You Get an Illustrator?

Editors and Art Directors are matchmakers. Once they acquire a manuscript (i.e. decide to publish it) they find the right illustrator to match with the text.

Sometimes they will ask the author’s opinion. Usually not.

Yes, this can really stress authors out – especially the first time around.

For I Pray Today my editor paired my manuscript up with Amandine Wannert who had already illustrated books for them in the past. I’ve never met Amandine – she lives all the way in France! But personally, I think it was a perfect match for this book.

Book "I Pray Today" on a white background with flowers

 

How Does the Illustrator Know What Images to Make

Ready for another shock?

The illustrator decides what art to put on the page – along with the editor and art director. 

Note that the author is not in that list of people.

Authors can give general guidelines. For instance, when I sent my editor the query for I Pray Today, I told her that the manuscript

“follows a child through his day, from waking with a “Good morning, God,” to getting tucked in at bedtime – always with a prayer on his lips:

Good morning, God. The day is new. I say my first small prayer to You.         

Lord Have Mercy”

The last part is the opening of the manuscript. I never told them what to put on the page with it, yet it turned out perfectly.

I PRAY TODAY interior illustration

Author’s can (very very occasionally) include an art note to explain what illustration needs to go with a piece of text. This is reserved for cases where the text doesn’t make sense without the art. Giving a note helps the editor to understand the text in the same way that a reader would – with both text and art together.

For example, one part of I Pray Today includes the text:

Dad says dinner’s piping hot. I stuff in food, but – oops, forgot. 

Why does she say “oops?”

What did she forget?

Once you see the artwork, it makes perfect sense:

 

I PRAY TODAY interior spread 2

She forgot to pray first! In my manuscript, I included an art note to explain this: [ART: Kid starts eating before prayer.]

That’s the only art note in the whole manuscript because that’s the only one that was needed. Even then, I kept it to just what was needed to understand the text. I still left most of the decisions up to the illustrator: Who is at dinner? Are they at home, a restaurant, somewhere else? How will you show that she forgot to pray?

This came up recently. An adult reader contacted me on behalf of his child wanting to know: what are they eating? 

Good question! I really had no idea, since I hadn’t made that decision. So I sent it off an email to my editor who said:

Good question! And she emailed the illustrator to find out.

I had fun polling my friends on social media while I waited for the answer. Most people guessed chicken nuggets with either fries or green beans.

Well, we were a little bit right:

The Illustrator answers our burning question: what are they eating
the illustrator answers our burning question: Dear Jane, I like this question, it is really cute! Without colours, it is hard to guess… The little girl is eating “haricots verts et pommes noisettes”: french beans (green beans) and hazelnut potatoes (round french fries). Best, Amandine”

 

All in all, it was a lot of fun finding out the answer. (Also, I really want to try those pommes noisettes.)

 

What If the Illustrations Are Wrong?

This is the whispered question that everyone is dying to know but nervous to ask.

Aspiring authors especially seem to struggle with this. It’s scary to give up control of something you have worked so hard on.

Ready for another shocker?

It’s not just your book. It certainly feels that way – as an author, you come up with a concept, agonize over every word, and revise until your fingers fall off. But with a picture book or board book, text and illustration work together. They’re a package deal.

And also: It almost always works out wonderfully. I have worked with three different illustrators over seven books and, each time, I was blown away by their work. Every. single. time.

Goodnight Jesus interior pages

This spread from Goodnight Jesus is a great example. I gave the editor general guidelines for the form of this book, just like I did for I Pray Today. I told them it was a bedtime story focused on giving kisses – a child works their way toward bedtime but giving, and eventually receiving, kisses. But I didn’t specify how that should be shown. In my head, I imagined the child in their family icon corner kissing icons then moving toward bed giving out kisses as they go.

Instead, the illustrator put the child into the icons. I had imagined a static version, but he made it interactive. That makes for a more engaging illustration and book. Plus you can see both the love the child is giving AND the love the child is receiving. That’s a deep theological statement – but boiled down to a child’s level.

The two images together in ways I didn’t consider. Notice how the position of the two babies are mirror images of one another. Even Jesus’ body language mirrors Mary’s – each is cuddling a baby they love. That makes the images work together both on an aesthetic level,and a theological level.

The illustrator didn’t just show my story, he added to it in ways that deepened it. He brought a fresh perspective that allowed him to expand the story in meaningful ways. Which bring us to our next question:

 

Why Does it Work This Way?

Separating the text decisions from the illustration decisions isn’t a cruel thing done by evil editors. They are giving both artists – author and illustrator – the freedom to do their best work. I am not a visual artist. I don’t have the training or experience to make decisions about artwork.

No, the child in your book probably won’t look exactly like your granddaughter. The illustrations may not match what you envisioned. That doesn’t make it wrong.

If you can go in with an open mind, you’ll be able to appreciate the exceptional artwork that has been carefully crafted to enhance your story.

Secretly, I think that the editor’s and illustrator’s jobs are to make the author look good. The editor wants this book to succeed. The illustrator wants to produce excellent illustrations. All of which makes my book stronger and better than I could make it on my own.

So, no, authors don’t have illustration decisions about their books. But that’s just fine.

 

Next time I’ll share what the illustration process looks like for illustrators. We’ll pick up after the editor has paired them with a book text and see what it’s like from that side of the equation.

 

Happy New year! Goodbye 2018, Hello 2019

New Year 2019

It’s nearly the end of 2018, folks. It’s been a great year for me writing-wise.

 

Looking Back at 2018

 

2018 in Writing

I published my second board book, I Pray Today, and I had my first-ever blog tour.

Book "I Pray Today" on a white background with flowers  Blog tour for "I PRAY TODAY"

I revised my novel and got two new work for hire picture book contracts – six books total. I’m finishing up the fourth now and the other two will ring in the new year.

I officially won the 12×12 challenge for the second year running by writing 13 new picture book drafts.

 

2018 in Reading

2018 Goodreads reading challenge - 267 books of 500

I didn’t quite hit my goal to read 500 books again this year, but I’m still really happy with my total. In the past, I hit those high numbers because I read a lot of picture books, but this year I shifted my focus to more middle grade. I hit my goal of reading 75 middle grade or longer works.

 

2018 Author visits and more 

I got to teach classes at Purdue University on my favorite subject: writing for kids!

My Kidlit Karma project to blog reviews of books each month went really well! I reviewed or hosted reviews nearly every month.

 

Looking Ahead to 2019

2019 is already starting to fill up! My 2019 is likely to be just as busy as 2018 was. I have two more work for hire picture books to finish by the end of February, I was invited to join a small writers’ group for the first few months, and I’ll be finishing up my novel and begin querying it.

It’s likely to be another roller coaster!

 

Right now I’m working on setting my goals for 2019. If you’re doing the same, you might want to check out these posts on setting resolutions and goals.

Why Some Resolutions are Doomed to Fail and how to Set Goals that Work  DOs and DON'Ts for New Year's Resolutions You'll Actually Keep

 

And if you’re a writer or a planner, make sure to sign up for my mailing list so you can get my free bullet journal printable.

Free Printable Bullet Journal for Writers

Not sure what a bullet journal is or how it will help you meet your goals? I have a whole blog series that covers the basics of bullet journaling, my magical monthly spread, and collections just for writers.

 

Happy New Year, everyone!

BIG List of Books for Kids: 2018 edition

2018 List of Books to give to kids: Kids books for every age and stage: Baby to Teen and everything in between

It’s that time of year again: where I try to convince you to buy books for every child you know this holiday season.

This is my fourth year putting together this list (!!!). It’s always a lot of fun to look back at what I read over the year – like revisiting old friends. I hope you will find some new friends on this list.

I’ve added some codes to help identify particular types of books:

NF = Nonfiction

H = Humor

Memoir

S = Series

 

And if you somehow don’t find a book on this list, check out the extra lists at the bottom of the post.

 

Babies and Toddlers

(Board books: Babies and toddlers)

I Pray Today book cover artBook Cover: Ciao, Baby! In the Park   Book Cover: Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard

I Pray Today and Goodnight Jesus (You knew this was coming, right?)

Ciao, Baby! In the Park

Wee Beasties: Huggy the Python Hugs Too Hard (This series is great for toddlers)

See also: Roundup of 12 board Books

 

Child

(Picture Book: Age 3-8)

Book Cover: All are WelcomeBook Cover: Are we pears yet?Book Cover: Be KindBook Cover: The Day you Begin

All Are Welcome

Are We Pears Yet? NF H

Be Kind

The Day You Begin

 

Book Cover: the Diamond and the BoyBook Cover: EscargotBook Cover: The FieldBook Cover: Starring Carmen

The Diamond and the Boy: The Creation of Diamonds and the Life of H. Tracy Hall NF

Escargot H

The Field

Starring Carmen H

Book Cover: This is not a normal animal bookBook cover: We Don't Eat Our Classmatesbook Cover: When Penny Met POTUS

This is Not a Normal Animal Book H

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates H

When Penny Met Potus H

 

New Readers

(Early Readers: Age 6-9)

Book Cover: Super Happy Party Bears 1: Gnawing AroundBook Cover: Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School

Super Happy Party Bears H S

Two Dogs in a Trench Coat Go to School H S

 

 

Graphic Novels

(Age 3-99, younger children will need an adult reader)

This July I did a round-up of these 6 great graphic novels. Check out the post for a full description of each book and find out why I think graphic novels should be a part of a child’s balanced reading diet.

Book Cover: Catstronauts: Mission MoonBook Cover: El DeafoBook Cover: Ghostsbook Cover: Phoebe and her Unicorn

Catsotronauts H S

El Deafo Memoir H

Ghosts

Phoebe and Her Unicorn H S

 

Book Cover: Real FriendsBook Cover: Zita the Spacegirl

Real Friends Memoir

Zita the Spacegirl H S

 

Tweens

(Middle Grade: Age 8-12)

Book Cover: Amal UnboundBook Cover: Counting by 7sBook Cover: Lockwood and Company Book 1: The Screaming StaircaseBook Cover: The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

Amal Unbound

Counting by 7’s

Lockwood and Company: The Screaming Staircase S (Note: this book is sometimes classed as Young Adult but, besides some creepy ghosts, does not contain mature content that would be inappropriate for tweens.)

The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl

 

Book Cover: The Parker InheritanceBook Cover: Shark LadyBook Cover: The World's Latest DetectiveBook Cover: York: The Shadow Cipher

The Parker Inheritance

Shark Lady: The True Story of How Eugenie Clark Became the Ocean’s Most Fearless Scientist NF

The World’s Greatest Detective

York: The Shadow Cipher S

 

Teens

(Young Adult: Age 13+)

Note that these books have mature content (roughly equivalent to PG13). This post gives tips for determining if a book is appropriate for your child.

Book Cover: The Astonishing Color of AfterBook Cover: The Poet XBook Cover: Turtles all the way down

The Astonishing Color of After

The Poet X

Turtles All the Way Down

 


Need more ideas? Check out these:

 2016 Big List of Books to Give to Kids

Big list of books to give to kids

200+ Children's Book Reviews

 

3 Children’s Books With Disabled Main Characters: Kidlit Karma August 2018

3 Children's Books with Disabled Main Characters with Guest blogger Charlotte Riggle

Charlotte Riggle HeadshotAt the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

This summer I’ve welcomed several writing friends to share books that they love. Today I’m happy to welcome Charlotte Riggle, my friend and fellow children’s book writer. Charlotte and I have never met in person, but we’ve traveled in the same small online writing circles for many years.

Charlotte is a voice for disability representation in children’s books. Both her most recent picture book, THE SAINT NICHOLAS DAY SNOW, and her the previous book, CATHERINE’S PASCHA, feature the main character’s disabled best friend. Neither story is about disability, they’re about children being children. They just happen to be different.

Cover art for THE SAINT NICHOLAS DAY SNOW by Charlotte Riggle          Cover art for CATHERINE'S PASCHA

Take it away Charlotte!


Books are magical. When you read a book, you can travel into the future or into the past. You can visit cities and worlds you’ve never been to. You can see animals that you never knew existed. And you can meet people that aren’t like the people in your neighborhood.

And all of this magic has a wonderful influence on the minds and hearts of children. Children who meet all sorts of people – different ages, different races, different abilities – are less likely to accept stereotypes. They are more likely to respond with empathy to all sorts of people. And, wonderfully, magically, meeting those people in books does the same thing.

So it’s important that our children read books about all sorts of people. Including people with disabilities. But there are genuinely not many children’s books with disabled characters. So here are three to get you started: a picture book and two middle grade novels. 

 

Picture Book: A SPLASH OF RED: THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE PIPPIN by Jen Bryant and Melissa Sweet

Book cover for A SPLASH OF RED: THE ART AND LIFE OF HORACE PIPPIN

If you’re not a student of American art, you probably haven’t heard of Horace Pippin. I hadn’t until I discovered this wonderful book. Pippin is considered a folk artist, or an American primitive artist, like Grandma Moses.

A Splash of Red is a richly detailed biography of Pippin. He was born in 1888 and had what might be considered a privileged life for the grandson of slaves. He attended school through eighth grade. He loved art and drew and painted with whatever materials he could find.

When World War I started, he volunteered to serve. He was injured in combat – his right shoulder was badly damaged. He couldn’t draw anymore. He couldn’t paint. And he couldn’t find anyone willing to hire him.

He married. He helped his wife with her business. And he longed to draw and paint.

Eventually, that passion drove him to do what everyone thought was impossible. He supported his injured right arm with his left hand, and with time and determination, he began painting again.

A Splash of Red is gorgeous, as any book about an artist should be. There’s a wealth of detailed information in the back of the book. The book isn’t intended for very young children. But a child interested in history or art will read this one over and over again.

A SPLASH OF RED: THE LIFE AND ART OF HORACE on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS by Dusti Bowling

Cover art for INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS

Aven, the main character of Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, was born without arms. But she hasn’t let that stop her. She has learned to do almost anything any other kid can do, using what she does have: her mouth, her feet, and her wit. Her friends at school have known her since forever, and they’re used to the way she does things. It’s just not a big deal.

But then her dad gets a job running an run-down theme park in Arizona. The family moves across the country. And at age 13, Aven finds herself in a new school, with kids who don’t know her, and who think she’s a bit of a freak.

Aven doesn’t like being stared at. She doesn’t like being treated as if she can’t do things for herself. She just wants to go home to Kansas. But that’s not an option. So she finds a mystery that needs to be solved. Disappearing tarantulas. Missing photographs. A locked room and a locked desk.

Somehow, the mystery seems to have something to do with her.

Along the way, she makes friends with a couple of boys who are also outsiders: Zion, who is seriously overweight, and Connor, who has Tourette’s. Together, they could do what none of them could do alone.

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactusis notable for its realistic and unsentimental portrayal of uncommon disabilities. The characters aren’t written as collections of stereotypes. They are well rounded, interesting, utterly charming human beings. And while they grow and develop through their experiences, they do not encounter miraculous cures.

The book is a delight on every level. The publisher recommends it for kids in grades 3 to 7. But if you have an older child who has a significant disability, or who knows someone with a disability, I’m sure this book will resonate with them.

To learn how Dusti Bowling made sure the characters were realistic, read the interview on the Nerdy Book Club.

INSIGNIFICANT EVENTS IN THE LIFE OF A CACTUS on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS by Merrie Haskell

Covert art for HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS

Tilda is the Princess of Alder Brook. But she isn’t particularly interested in being a princess. She would much rather be a nun, working alone in a scriptorium, copying books – or, even better, writing her own books. 

Of course, she’s got a lot of reasons for preferring books to the life of a princess. For one thing, her principality is in dire financial straits. For another, many of her subjects think she’s cursed. She’s got a club foot, after all.

The club foot affects who Tilda is and what she does. It’s not just the people who think she’s cursed. Her own mother won’t let her ride horses or do anything else where she might get hurt.

And there’s the pain. Her foot hurts. A lot. Her maidservant, Judith, knows how to help. But the pain and disability make it hard for her to do some things that are easy for others.

There are days that running away from her life at Alder Brook seems like a good idea.

And when her cousin Ivo kidnaps her mother, and then Tilda, to take Alder Brook away from them, she has to run away to survive. Judith and a would-be squire named Parzifal join her. They decide that, while avoiding Ivo, they should go on a quest to kill dragons.

Because it gives them something to do. And dragons are evil, right?

Well, that’s what Tilda and her companions think at the beginning of their quest. But through their encounters with the Wild Hunt, the Horses of Elysium, an evil magician, and (of course) a dragon, they learn a great deal about dragons – and about themselves.

I don’t just read YA – I read middle grade novels and picture books, too. And Handbook for Dragon Slayers is perhaps my favorite middle grade novel of all time. Tilda’s encounters with the dragon are especially wonderful.

You can read an interview with author Merrie Haskell on Disability in Kidlit, along with a fabulous review by a reader who also has a clubfoot.

HANDBOOK FOR DRAGON SLAYERS on Amazon

 

Thank you, Charlotte!

3 Children's Books with Disabled Main Characters with Guest blogger Charlotte Riggle

200+ Children’s Book Reviews

200+ Children's Book Reviews

I love reviewing connecting people with books almost as much as I love reading them. That’s one reason I review so many books here on my blog. And since I’ve started doing my Kidlit Karma project, I’m doing a lot more reviews.

Just one problem: it’s not that easy to find things here on the old blog.

So if you need, say, a nonfiction book for a tween – sure I’ve got it. …Somewhere… Something had to be done.

Now I’ve created a master page for all my book reviews. Yay!

It’s sorted in two ways:

  1. Ages and stages – this includes age ranges like baby, child, tween, teen, and adult. It also includes stages like early reading.
  2. Topics – Jump here to get a collected list of all STEM, nonfiction, diverse books, and books for writers. Within each topic they’re sorted by age to make things easy.

So, go forth and find a book to read!

 

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Kidlit Karma Reviews: June 2018

June 2018 Kidlit Karma book reviews with Katherine Rothstein

At Katherine Rothstein Photothe end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

If you follow me on Instagram, you’ll know that I moved into a new house earlier this month. Lucky for me my critique partner and fellow kidlit writer, Katherine Rothstein, has agreed to share her summer kidlit reading list for this month’s review. You can follow her on Twitter at @krothsteinslp2.

Take it away Katherine!

 

 


It’s officially summer!  Whether you hit the beach, lounge in your hammock, or float around the pool it’s the perfect time to read a good book. I am a speech pathologist, kidlit lover, and mommy of two. My daughter is one eager reader and enjoys reading everything from the back of a shampoo bottle to novels. My son has particularly high standards, and he prefers a read with humor and loads of action.  One thing they have in common…they both LOVE funny. Determined to keep them reading all summer, I’ve strategically created a book exchange with their friends, designed enticing book displays throughout the house, and even tucked a book or two under their pillows.  Here are a few of our favorites:

 

PICTURE BOOKS

I am a huge advocate of rhyming books for all ages but especially for children under six years old and emerging readers.  Rhyme is an essential phonological awareness skill that is necessary when learning to read.  Our brain best learns new words and information by classifying into categories. If a child can read Cat, they should also quickly learn Hat, Bat, Fat, Mat, Rat, and Sat.  Plus, rhyming books are fun to read aloud!

 

MONSTERS NEW UNDIES by Samantha Berger and Tad Carpenter

MOSNTER'S NEW UNDIES book cover

MONSTER’S NEW UNDIES is adorable!  Your tush will fall in love with this sweet little monster on a search for new undies.

Get MONSTERS NEW UNDIES on Amazon

 

FROG ON A LOG by Kes Gray and Jim Field

FROG ON A LOG book cover

Every animal has a place to sit and conveniently, each animal’s seat rhymes with that animal’s name. But Frog does not want to sit on a log. “It’s not about being comfortable,” explains the cat. “It’s about doing the right thing.”

Get FROG ON A LOG on Amazon

 

ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR by Laura Gehl and Tom Lichtenheld

ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR book cover

ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR will show you that it is fun to count and share, and it all starts with one big pair of underwear.

Get ONE BIG PAIR OF UNDERWEAR on Amazon

 

EARLY READERS

Here are two that are laugh out loud funny. They teach a basic concept of opposites. They also offer fun and colorful illustrations to capture the attention of non-reading listeners.

 

STEVE AND WESLEY: THE ICE CREAM SHOP by Jennifer E. Morris

STEVE AND WESLEY: THE ICE CREAM SHOP book cover

Get STEVE AND WESLEY: THE ICE CREAM SHOP on Amazon

 

THE LONG DOG by Eric Seltzer

THE LONG DOG Book cover art

Get THE LONG DOG on Amazon

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

These are a hit with my reluctant reader.  They have more text than early readers, deeper plots and fun illustrations to support the story.  Best of all, they are hilarious!

 

THE BAD GUYS series by Aaron Blabey

THE BAD GUYS #1 book cover art

A wolf, a piranha, a snake and a shark make up this Bad Guy team.  They plan and execute missions to support their new image of being good. Full of humor to make any kid chuckle.

Get BAD GUYS on Amazon

 

NARWHAL AND JELLY series by Ben Clanton

Book cover for NARWHAL AND JELLY: THE UNICORN OF THE SEA

Narwhal and Jelly are awesome friends with big imaginations.  This book has real fun fish facts and a waffle who battles a robot.  Yep, all that excitement packed into 65 pages!

Get NARWHAL AND JELLY: THE UNICORN OF THE SEA on Amazon

 

MIDDLE GRADE

Okay, so these two favorites do not check the funny column, but they are sure to make you smile.  And, who can resist a heart-warming story of friendship between a dog and their person?

 

CHESTER AND GUS by Cammie McGovern

Book Cover Art for CHESTER AND GUS

Chester wants to be a service dog but fails his certification.  A family adopts him in hopes that he will be a companion to their 10-year-old son with autism. Chester is lovable, smart and determined to find a way to connect with Gus and find his fit in this family.

Get CHESTER AND GUS on Amazon

 

BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE by Kate DiCamillo

Book Cover Art for BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE

There is a reason this book has received so much attention.  The author has a way of making the characters come to life. A brilliant story about forgiveness and friendship.

Get BECAUSE OF WINN DIXIE on Amazon

 

Have a fun summer and happy reading!

 

 

 

 

Kidlit Karma Reviews: February 2018

Kidlit Karma February 2018 post picture

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

Last month, I shared my first batch of books and today I’m sharing another batch.

With Easter on the horizon, I considered going with a theme and posting all Easter-related books. But my good friend and fellow Kidlit writer, Charlotte Riggle, has already put together several roundups of Easter-related picture books. Like this list of multicultural Easter books and this list of Easter books for toddlers. 

So instead, today I’m going to save my gushing for Charlotte’s book itself along with some other great, non-Easter books.

 

Picture Book: CATHERINE’S PASCHA by Charlotte Riggle

Cover for CATHERINE'S PASCHA by Charlotte Riggle

 

Catherine can’t wait for Pascha, the middle of the night Easter celebration at her church. And this year, she is definitely not going to fall asleep and miss Pascha. She’ll keep her eyes open all night for the candles and giggles with her best friend. Plus, there’s a giant feast afterward! But she might close her eyes for just a minute…

I love this book for two reasons. It’s a peek inside how another culture celebrates Easter. But it’s foremost, a really amusing story told from a child’s perspective.

A disclaimer: Charlotte and I have never met in person, but we travel in many, many of the same online circles. Over the years, she has firmly come over to the side of being a friend rather than just a colleague. However, I bought her book for my own kids long before we “met” online. Her work speaks for itself in its quality. The best testament I can give is that my kids pull it off the shelf all year long to read. They quote it at Easter time. We’re on our third copy because we loan it out and the little readers can’t part with it.

CATHERINE’S PASCHA on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: THE METROPOLITANS by Carol Goodman

Cover for THE METROPOLITANS by Carol Goodman

Four kids from very different walks of life, all find their fates bound together at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are entwined in centuries of secrets and magic but the Japanese just bombed Pearl Harbor and they’ll have to stop something even more catastrophic in New York City.

The author has woven together solid history with fantasy and the results are engrossing. I devoured this book and I’m hoping it will become a series.

THE METROPOLITANS on Amazon

 

Young Adult Nonfiction: ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY by Martha Brockenbrough

Cover of ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY by Martha Brockenbrough

Brockenbrough does a great job of stringing together the relevant facts in a way that both tells a true and complete story of Alexander Hamilton’s life, and also keeps the reader engaged way past their bedtime. If you think you don’t like history books, try reading this one to change your mind.

I am obsessed with Hamilton the musical. Lin Manuel Miranda is a musical genius, but he also had a really great subject to work with. Alexander Hamilton’s life was a real-life soap opera (just add musical score). I’m not alone in my obsession and the glut of Hamilton books on the market in the last year is a reflection of that. If you’re going to read only one of the Hamilton biographies, this is an excellent choice.

ALEXANDER HAMILTON REVOLUTIONARY on Amazon

Kidlit Karma Reviews: January 2018

At the end of 2017, I made a pledge. I challenged myself to review good books every month in 2018, particularly books that haven’t gotten as much love as I feel they deserve. I call it Kidlit Karma because I’m aiming to spread the love for books that I love.

Today, I’m proud to share my first batch of books. Yes, batch. While my stated goal is one book a month, I read and fall in love with many more books than that.

 

Picture book: MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Cover of MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS by Suzanne Del Rizzo

Sami loves living in Syria with his family and his pet pigeons. But when the war forces his family to leave, he worries about his pigeons. He is now safe in a refugee camp, but he finds that the world still feels black. Until one day, three beautiful birds find him and he rediscovers a world of color.

This book brought tears to my eyes in a good way. This book deal with a heavy but important topic: the ongoing crisis in Syria. It does it in a way that doesn’t oversimplify a complex issue but is appropriate in tone and content for a young child. This book is great for showing how hope and beauty can be found in the hardest of situations. Also, the illustrations are simply GORGEOUS.

MY BEAUTIFUL BIRDS on Amazon

 

Middle Grade: THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME by Kate Messner

Cover of THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME by Kate Messner

Zig’s dad suddenly cancels his visit and his mom won’t tell him why but Zig has a plan. With a new-to-him GPS unit and his faithful friends, he’s going to track down Senior Searcher, the geocaching alias he’s sure is his dad.

This is another book that I think sheds light on an important social issue without sacrificing good storytelling or becoming didactic. Homelessness is common for children in the United States, but it’s rarely addressed in books. This book does a good job of showing the reality and difficulties that homelessness can create for kids and families, while also maintaining the character’s dignity.

THE EXACT LOCATION OF HOME on Amazon

 

Young Adult Nonfiction: RADIOACTIVE! HOW IRENE CURIE AND LISE MEITNER REVOLUTIONIZED SCIENCE AND CHANGED THE WORLD by Winifred Conkling

Cover for RADIOACTIVE! by Winifred Conkling

I love a good nonfiction book, particularly when true events are woven together to make a compelling story. And this book does exactly that.

This book is equal parts science and intrigue. You’ve probably not heard of these women (though Irene’s mother, Marie Curie, may ring a bell), but they each make enormous contributions to science and, in particular, the development of the atomic bomb. They did it all in the midst of two world wars that put them on battlefronts and made them part of elaborate conspiracies to flee Nazi’s.

If you like Steve Sheinkin’s BOMB, you will love this book that dives into the science and the women behind the race for the Atomic bomb.

RADIOACTIVE! on Amazon

 

What about you? What books have been bringing you joy this month?