The Tea Dragon Festival

by Katie O’Neill
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Content: There’s really nothing objectionable. It’s a bit long for beginning readers. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

From what I understand, this world is introduced in The Tea Dragon Society, so I kind of feel like I’m coming into this a little blind.

There is this world where dragons are shapeshifters (I think?) and they protect villages. There are also talking animals (I think?) and the tea dragons are kind of like little goats that you can harvest leaves from to make tea (I think?).

This book has to deal with a small village (in the mountains, so they only eat what they can forage) and a dragon that was supposed to be protecting it but had fallen asleep for 80 years. And with figuring out what you’re good at and doing that and not what People Expect you to do.

Or something like that

It’s just a weird little book. The art is gorgeous, though. I’d love to have some of O’Neill’s paintings; she does such lush landscapes. And I did admire that she has a deaf character that does sign language, though that was a bit challenging to depict in a graphic novel format. I do appreciate, too, that this is a tame little inclusive fantasy without any violence or conflict. Though that kind of means there’s not much meat to it either.

Good for those who want pretty pictures and a light story.

Tiger vs. Nighmare

by Emily Tetri
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Content: It’s pretty simple text-wise and lots of illustrations, though one nightmare is pretty scary. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it almost works as a beginning chapter book.

This is a super simple picture book: Tiger is friends with the monster under her bed, mostly because Monster keeps Tiger’s nightmares away. That is, until one night when Monster meets a nightmare that it can’t scare away. Then it’s up to Tiger to help Monster get rid of the nightmare.

This is so stinking cute! I adored Tiger and Monster’s friendship, and this would work as an overlong picture book for kids who are struggling with things that go bump in the night. The illustrations are adorable and it’s just a delight to read.

A great new (to me, at least) comic artist!

Audio book: Hollow Kingdom

by Kira Jane Buxton
Read by Robert Petkoff
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: Oh, it’s foul. So much swearing. And pretty gross sometimes, too. It’s in the adult fiction section. Don’t give it to those who are faint-hearted.

There is no getting around it: this book is not for everyone. It’s just not. It swears more than a sailor and there are moment with the “zombies” that are just plain gross. That said, this is the most unique book I’ve read in a long long time, one that just nails the habits of animals and the way the natural world works and comes with a moral: GET OFF YOUR SCREENS HUMANS AND INTERACT WITH NATURE.

That said, our main narrator is S. T. (short for S**t Turd), a domesticated crow that, when his owner succumbs to the disease that has zombified humanity, takes off with his trusty Bloodhound sidekick, Dennis, to figure out how to function in the natural world. There are octopus oracles, cats with delusions of grandeur (are they delusions, really), a murder of stuck-up college crows, an adventure bald eagle, and lots and lots of close scrapes, near misses, and triumphs. And, on top of that, it’s so very funny. (At least I found it so. Even if you don’t read it, go find the first chapter narrated by Genghis Cat — it’s about four chapters in — and read that. Just that. It’s okay if you don’t read anything else. It’s sheer humor perfection.) I’m super picky about humor too, and so I was pleasantly surprised to find myself laughing out loud as much as I did.

It’s probably mostly in part because this book is sheer perfection on audio. The reader is PERFECT, nailing what I imagine all the animals would sound like, from S. T. and Genghis Cat to Winnie the Poodle and the other animals we encounter throughout the book. There are some thoughtful moments along the way, as well, and I’m serious about the moral: get off the screens and go connect with other people. IN REAL LIFE. It’s what might save us from the zombie apocalypse, in the end.

Sea Sirens

by Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some intense moments, but the language is actually pretty simple. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section, but I’d give it to the younger end of that set.

Trot is a California girl through and through. She spends the days (when she’s not in school!) at the beach with her grandfather while her mother works — he fishes, she surfs. Except there’s a problem: her grandfather has the beginning stages of dementia and doesn’t always remember where he is or that he’s supposed to be watching Trot. After one experience where her grandfather goes missing, Trot’s mom grounds them both to the house. So, Trot sneaks out with their cat, Cap’n Bill, and they go surfing. Except, they end up in the underwater world of the Sea Sirens. The are mortal enemies with the Sea Serpents, and Trot and Cap’n Bill help defeat them. So, they’re taken in as heroes for an underwater adventure with the Sea Sirens. (And Grandpa comes too!)

As I mentioned in the content, this is almost a beginning chapter Graphic Novel (does it belong with the other beginning chapter books? Perhaps.) — the language is basic, there are a lot of illustrations and not a lot of text, and the adventure is pretty simple. I think it serves the same function as the Babymouse books: it’s there to help beginning readers find a footing in the world of graphic novels. It’s fantastic that the main character is Vietnamese-American, and that her grandfather sometimes slips into Vietnamese when he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. It’s a cute book — I bet the full-color finished is quite gorgeous — and it’s a start of a series of adventures that Trot and Cap’n Bill will have. It’ll be a good one to put into the hands of those 1-3rd graders who are looking for something fun to read.

Lost Rainforest: Mez’s Magic

by Eliot Schrefer
First sentence: “What’s wrong with me?”
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Content: There are some moments of intense action. It’s in the middle grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

I picked this one up after hosting Eliot at a few school events last February. I learned SO much about the Amazon ecosystem and the animals in it, and Eliot was so charming and passionate about animals that I thought I really ought to give the book a try.

And? Well, it’s perfect for those who like prophecies and talking animals and friends who work together towards a single goal. It’s MUCH better than the Warriors books, and about as good as the Wings of Fire books (real animals instead of dragons though). Granted, I’m not a fan of talking animals, but even I liked this one. Schrefer knows how to plot really well, and I liked the small things like using “otherpaw” (for example) instead of “other hand”. You can tell, reading the book, that Schrefer knows his animals, and knows how they work together (or not) in an environment. And he knows how to write action, and how to keep the plot moving forward.

So, while this may not be my sort of book, it’s still a good one, and I’m glad I read it.

The Size of the Truth

by Andrew Smith
First sentence: “This all starts with my first enormous truth, which was a hole.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: March 26, 2019
Content: It’s odd, and Smith’s reputation for edgy YA might turn some people off, but there’s really nothing in this that a 4/5-6/7th grader wouldn’t like. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Sam Abernathy is known for one thing: falling down a well when he was four and being trapped for three days. It’s not something you want to be remembered for, especially when you are 11 years old and just got pushed up to the 8th grade. No, it’s not something he wanted. He also doesn’t want to go on survival campout weekends with his dad. Or be a part of the Science Club. Or go to MIT to study science something. Or be in 8th grade PE.

What does he want? To cook. But no one seems to hear that.

Yes, this is a very Andrew Smith book: delightfully weird, slightly off-kilter, and yet completely full of heart and soul. There’s a talking armadillo (who may or may not be a figment of four year old Sam’s imagination). There’s another 8th grader, James Jenkins, who Sam’s sure is going to kill him. But what it is really, is a reflection on figuring out who YOU are (and not who your parents or community want you to be) and what YOU want to do with your life. And then sticking up for it.

And it’s absolutely perfect for those fourth-seventh graders who are just trying to figure things out.

I loved it.

Freya & Zoose

by Emily Butler
First sentence: “There was no question in Freya’s mind that this was her last chance.”
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Review copy provided by the author.
Content: It’s short and highly illustrated, but it contains some big(ish) words. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Freya is a rockhopper penguin who has always wanted (and feared) adventure. So, when she hears about an expedition to the North Pole (by hot air balloon!) she takes a deep breath and hops on board. There, she meets the intrepid (and somewhat annoying) mouse Zoose, who becomes her unwelcome (at first) traveling companion. Together they weather the ups and downs and the hardships and joys of traveling to the Arctic, and discover that perhaps friendship is the most important part.

Because I sell books, I tend (sometimes, not always) to read them looking for the person who will like the book. And this one, I think, will appeal to one of two sorts of people: those who like talking animals, and those who like quiet books that feel like classics. It’s a charming little book, with a quiet little adventure (Things do Happen, but it’s not a mile-a-minute page-turner) that I think would make a fantastic read-aloud to a younger child. I’m not sure how much an older kid would like it — it’s firmly geared toward the younger end of the middle grade range — but I really do think that reading it aloud to a 4-6 year old is the perfect thing to do with this book.

And that’s not a bad thing at all.