The Monster in the Lake by Louie Stowell

The Monster in the Lake, Vol. 2

Louie Stowell, Author

Davide Ortu, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Pages: 197

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Wizards, Spells, Libraries, Dragons, Magical creatures, Evil curses, Diversity

Opening: “In the Book Wood beneath the library, Kit Spencer was practicing spells. She was a stock girl, with red hair, pale skin, and more mud than you’d usually see on a person who wasn’t a professional pig wrestler…Her goal was to raise the fireball above her head, the lower it to the ground. Faith was guiding her through the spell.” 

Book Jacket Synopsis

Kit Spencer may be the youngest wizard ever, but she sure doesn’t feel like the best wizard. Her magic keeps going wrong, and other weird stuff is happening: talking animals, exploding fireballs, and a very strange new arrival in the local park pond.

She sets off with her two best friends, Alita and Josh and Faith the librarian to investigate with wild magic that’s causing so much commotion. Joining them is a half dragon, half dog named Dogon who breathes fire and loves to be petted. But something is effecting Dogon too. 

Their journey takes them to Scotland, where they meet a loch-full of cranky mermaids, but the danger is greater than they imagined. Will they be able to set things right before the wild and dangerous magic spreads further?

Why I like The Monster in the Lake:

What fun it is introducing this wizarding series to emerging readers who aren’t ready for Harry Potter and other MG fantasy books. In the Monster in the Lake, (Book 2), Louie Stowell creates an exciting and appealing adventure-packed story with magical creatures, diverse characters, and an engaging and suspenseful plot with unexpected twists. The storytelling is straightforward and the pacing is fast and humorous. 

The three diverse friends are lovable characters, but have very different personalities. Kit is a spirited character who is reckless and makes a lot of mistakes. She’d rather play outdoors than read a book. Josh and Alita aren’t wizards, but they both have their own unique talents and are smart, and avid readers. Josh is always taking notes and keeping things straight. This book begins with a letter he writes to his “future self,” which gives a readers a a peek into the first book, A Dragon in the Library. Alita is good at organizing and has a special way with animals. An unlikely group of friends, they do support each other and work well together. Faith, the wizard librarian, is believable and grounds the story. There are many laughable moments. 

I really like this charming and humorous chapter book series. There is a quiz at the end of the book that can be used to launch a discussion about the story. There is a third book in the works and the author leaves room for adventure and Kit’s character growth as she slowly learns to control her magic. I think Kit’s going to be an amazing wizard. This is the perfect summer adventure for young readers looking to escape into a world of magic, libraries, spells, a dragon-dog, and an unseen ancient evil presence trying to regain it’s power!

David Ortu’s pen and ink illustrations are playful. They capture the characters personalities, their reactions to stepping into the pages of a book to transport themselves to far off places, and their encounters with magical creatures. Ortu shares just enough art to spark readers imaginations! 

Louie Stowell started her career writing carefully researched books about space, ancient Egypt, politics and science, but eventually lapsed into making things up. She likes writing about dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies, monsters and parallel worlds. Stowell lives in London with her wife, Karen; her dog, Buffy; and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed. Visit Stowell at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Walker Books US in exchange for a review. 

Dear Reader: A Love Letter to Libraries by Tiffany Rose

Dear Reader: A Love Letter to Libraries

Tiffany Rose, Author and Illustrator

Little Bee Books, Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Suitable for ages: 4-8

Themes: Diversity, Representation in books, Libraries, Call to action, Make a difference

Opening: Dear Reader, do you see that little girl down there? That’s me with the big hair, the one surrounded by all the books. Look!

Book Jacket Synopsis:

A voracious young reader loves nothing more than going to the library and poring through books all day, making friends with characters and going off on exciting adventures with them. However, the more she reads, the more she notices that most of the books don’t have characters that look like her, and the only ones that do tell about the most painful parts of their history. Where are the heroines with Afros exploring other planets and the superheroes with Afros saving the day?

Why I like Dear Reader:

Wow! I really love this powerful picture book by Tiffany Rose! And it includes one of my favorite themes: kids making a difference. The illustrations are vibrant, expressive, colorful and deliver the message of the importance of representation of people of color in books.

A spirited brown-skinned girl devours books of all sizes and topics, She vicariously sees herself as a heroine who saves the day and goes on many adventures with the characters who become her friends. But, not one character looks like her. Yes, she finds stories about historical characters who deal with struggle, hardship and pain. But she wants to see herself in characters who do magic, fight villains and dragons, 

She invites readers to join her in her call to action to get more diverse books in the hands of readers. She wants to see books that represent people of all color. She urges them to write their own books with the characters and adventures they want to read.  This is a perfect home or classroom read aloud!

Resources: Encourage kids to write and draw a simple picture book where they see themselves represented in adventure stories and as superheroes. There are crayons of different skin tones available now.  Grab a box so kids of all ethnicities can match their own skin tones. 

Tiffany Rose is a left-handed illustrator and author who’s currently living and working in China. She’s a lover of coffee, wanderlust, massive curly Afros, and children being their imaginative, quirky, free selves. She is a full-time teachers, part-time author/illustrator, and world traveler. Rose remembers what it was like as a brown child not seeing herself reflected in the books and characters she loved so dearly, and has been inspired to create art and meaningful stories, like this book and her debut, M is for Melanin, so that underrepresented children and see themselves in books. Pencil in hand, she’s changing that percentage one illustration at a time.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Reviewed from a library copy.

 

Love in the Library by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month – May 1 – 31, 2022

Love in the Library

Maggie Tokuda-Hall, Author

Yas Imamura, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Historical Fiction, Feb. 8, 2022

Themes; Japanese Americans, Relocation camps, Library, World War II, Love, Hope

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Opening: “Tama did not like the desert. She brushed the dust from her eyes as she walked to the library. The barbed wire fences and guard towers cast long shadows over her path. She always did her best not to look at the guards.”

Book Jacket Synopsis:

“The miracle is in us. As long as we believe in change, in beauty, in hope.”

Tama works in the library at the Minidoka incarceration camp, where she is imprisoned because she is Japanese American.  Life in the Idaho camp is relentless and getting through each day is hard. Tama prefers to escape into her books, with their stories of honor and adventure. 

But every day, George is there, too — with a smile, yet another stack of books, and his comforting presence. It is George who helps Tama understand that she isn’t alone, and in that realization, hope if found.

Based on the experience of author Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s own grandparents, who met in Minidoka during World War II, this is a wrenching and beautiful tale of two people who find each other during a time of extreme darkness, and the family born out of their love. 

Why I like Love in the Library:

Love in the Library is an inspiring book for young readers who are introduced to one of America’s darkest periods in history — the internment of Japanese American families living on the West Coast. Mothers, fathers, grandparents, children and babies, shared single rooms in these prison camps. This is an important story to tell because of the fear that pervaded our country during World War II and the social injustices that occurred.

The material is age-appropriate, very factual and allows for a lot of discussion. The lovely gouache and watercolor illustrations will give children a peek into the stark and dreary camps and offer a glimpse of hope.

Even though this is based on the true story, the author helps readers understand how important it is to hope and dream, even under the worst circumstances. It is difficult for Tama to leave college life, but she finds a way to cope by working in the library. It is a place she can escape to and find books that lift her spirit. They are a constant companion, as is the daily visitor, George, who checks out stacks of books. They fall in love in a prison camp where people feel less than human and show their deep inner strength during a challenging time.   

Resources: Make sure you read the Author’s Note at the end of the story. There is a picture of Tama and George Tokuda. This book is a timely read for students today with so much pain and suffering going on in the world around them. It will lead to many interesting discussions. Ask children what helps them cope when they face a difficult situations? Make a list. 

Maggie Tokuda-Hall is Tama and George’s granddaughter, Wendy and Richard’s daughter, and Mikka’s sister. She’s the author of the Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winning picture book Also an Octopus; the YA novel, The Mermaid, the Witch, and the Sea; and the graphic novel Squad. She lives in Oakland, California, with her son, husband, and dog.

Every Friday, authors and KidLit bloggers post a favorite picture book. To see a complete listing of all the Perfect Picture Books (PPB) with resources, please visit author Susanna Leonard Hill’s website.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press, in exchange for a review.

 

Book Buddies: Marco Polo Brave Explorer by Cynthia Lord

Book Buddie: Marco Polo Brave Explorer

Cynthia Lord, Author

Stephanie Graegin, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Mar. 29, 2022

Suitable for ages; 6-9

Themes: Library, Borrowing books, Repurposing toys, Friendship, Bravery

Publisher’s Synopsis:

Marco Polo is a small felt mouse who used to be a Christmas ornament on Anne the Librarian’s tree. But now he’s one of the Book Buddies, toys that can be checked out just like books. Marco  Polo may be small, but he’s also a brave explorer looking for adventure — if only someone would check him out of the library.

Seth is a boy who visits the library with his dad and younger brother. He wishes he could be a little more brave especially when he goes on his first sleepover. But maybe a small explorer like Marco Polo is just the kid of friend he needs.

From Newbery Honor winner Cynthia Lord and celebrated artist Stephanie Graegin, here is the second title in a heartwarming series about a group of friendly toys at the library and the children who borrow them.

Why I like this Marco Polo Brave Explorer:

Children will be captivated by Cynthia Lord’s heartwarming Book Buddies chapter book series.  Marco Polo Brave Explorer is the second book, preceded by Ivy Lost and Found. It is the first series I’ve seen that pairs friendly toys with children who may need them to work through a difficult time. I love the idea that the toys are repurposed and given a chance to be loved again by more children. Such a great idea to check out a toy along with a book from a library.

The story is narrated in third person. Seth has been invited to Ben’s birthday party and sleepover and he’s not feeling very brave. What if he hears funny noises or wants to go home?  He doesn’t dare take his worn rabbit. Ben may think he’s silly or childish. Seth goes to the library to pick out a book and listen to the story time. The children are invited to find a book buddy and Seth spots tiny Marco Polo,  Anne the Librarian thinks Marco Polo is perfect for Seth and says that “brave explorers have big adventures.” And Marco Polo does have a big adventure when the Ben’s cat takes him off Seth’s pillow. He’ll have a big story to tell!  

The short chapters will engage children, as will Graegin’s lovely pen and ink illustrations on nearly every page. I look forward to more Book Buddy adventures with new borrowers. 

Cynthia Lord is the author of award-winning middle grade fiction titles such as the Newbery Honor Book Rules, and most recently Because of the Rabbit. She is also the author of Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series and the Book Buddies series. She lives in Maine.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick in exchange for a review.

 

Ivy Lost and Found by Cynthia Lord

Book Buddies: Ivy Lost and Found

Cynthia Lord, Author

Stephanie Graegin, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, Sep. 28, 2021

Suitable for ages: 6-9

Themes: Library, Borrowing books, Repurposing toys, Friendship 

Book Jacket Synopsis:

Ivy the doll is the newest Book Buddy — a toy that can be checked out just like a book — at Anne’s library. But Ivy isn’t sure she wants to be borrowed.  She’d rather go back to when Anne was a little girl and Ivy was her favorite toy.  Fern, a child who visits the library with her stepfamily, also wishes things could go back to the way they were, when Fern had her dad all to herself. When Fern takes Ivy home, an unexpected outdoor adventure helps both of them find confidence and belonging in their changing worlds. 

This  is the first book of a charming new illustrated series about library toys and the children who borrow them, written by Newbery Honor winner Cynthia Lord and illustrated by Stephanie Graegin. 

Why I like this book:

Children will fall in love with Lord’s heartwarming chapter book — the first book in a series that pairs friendly toys with children who may need them to work through a difficult time. I love the idea that the toys are repurposed and given a chance to be loved again by more children. Such a great idea to check out a toy along with a book from a library.

I love that the book is narrated by Ivy. She shares her memories of playing with Anne in the garden, attending birthday parties, receiving new clothes Anne sewed for her, and cuddling with Anne on winter nights. But Anne grows up and Ivy spends lonely nights on a shelf, until she’s packed away in a box in the attic.  “Missing someone hurts,” says Ivy, who echoes Fern’s feelings with her new stepfamily. Many children will identify and find comfort in Ivy Lost and Found.  

The short chapters will engage children, as will Graegin’s lovely pen and ink illustrations on nearly every page. I look forward to more Book Buddy adventures with new borrowers. 

As I write, my grown daughter’s favorite bear, “Dink,” is resting on the bed behind my desk. He went to camp with her and was her best buddy! Maybe he is lonely and needs repurposing. 

Cynthia Lord is the author of award-winning middle grade fiction titles such as the Newbery Honor Book Rules, and most recently Because of the Rabbit. She is also the author of Shelter Pet Squad chapter book series. She lives in Maine.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick in exchange for a review.

Houndsley and Catina at the Library by James Howe

Houndsley and Catina at the Library

James Howe, Author

Marie-Louise Gay, Illustrator

Candlewick Press, Fiction, 2020

Pages: 42

Suitable for ages: 5-8

Themes: Animals, Library, Change, Friendship

Synopsis:

It’s Saturday, and friends Houndsley, Catina, and Bert always go to the library. But when the trio arrives, librarian Trixie is sad. She doesn’t tell a joke or recommend a book. That’s when the friends find out the bad news: the library is closing because with Trixie retiring and off to circus school, there’s no one to take her place as head librarian. Or is there?

James Howe and Marie-Louis Gay have created another inspiring tale about being a supportive friend and how it’s never too late to try something new.

Why I like this book:

This is a perfect story for emerging readers and a fun summer read. Houndsley, Catina and Bert are friends and they always spend their Saturdays at the library. When they arrive, Trixie, the librarian, doesn’t greet them with a smile or as joke. In fact she looks sad. It turns out that Trixie is retiring and changing careers and the library will be closing it’s doors.

The story also involves themes that deal with change. What will they do without a library? It is their community gathering place. Houndsley teaches reading to those who don’t know how to read. Catina teaches a yoga class. and Bert returns books to shelves. But when the threesome stop by Trixie’s house to find out why the library is closing, they find her happily jumping on a trampoline. They discover Trixie is changing too — she wants to join the circus. 

There are three chapters in the book, with Marie-Louise Gay’s colorful pastel illustrations  set the tone and compliment the story. Make sure your young reader checks out the other entertaining books in this Houndsely and Catina series.

James Howe is the author of many books for children, including the Bunnicula series and the Misfits series. He is also the author of the Houndsley and Catina books, as well as Otter and Odder, illustrated by Chris Raschka; Brontorina, illustrated by Randy Cecil; and Big Bob, Little Bob, illustrated by Laura Ellen Anderson. James Howe lives outside of New York City.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Candlewick Press in exchange for a review.  

The Dragon in the Library by Louie Stowell

The Dragon in the Library (A Kit the Wizard Book 1)

Louie Stowell, Author

David Ortu, Illustrator

Walker Books US, Fiction, Mar. 16, 2021

Pages: 200

Suitable for ages: 7-9

Themes: Library, Magic, Wizards, Dragon, Villain 

Opening: “Do you seriously want to spend the first day of summer vacation with a bunch of dead people?” Josh asked.

Synopsis:

Kit Spencer can’t stand reading. She’d rather be outside playing and getting muddy than stuck inside with a book. But when her best friends, Josh and Alita, drag her to the local library, Kit discovers that there is something magical when she opens a book and finds herself standing in the middle of a beautiful garden. And there is something very unusual about the librarian, Faith, who follows her into the book and uses strange words to get them out. Kit learns that she’s a wizard — and maybe the youngest wizard in the world. Kit’s response: “Wow.”  

Kit must keep her secret or she will put the entire wizarding world in danger. She can’t tell her best friends or the librarian will have to erase their memories. Too late. Josh and Alita have been eavesdropping outside the room and burst in begging Faith not to “wipe their brains.” They promise to keep the secrets of the library and the threesome embark upon a journey to help Kit protect the sleeping dragon hidden beneath the library.

Kit discovers using magic isn’t easy and spells can be tricky.  Kit has a big learning curve, but she must learn quickly because there’s a power-hungry businessman who will stop at nothing to get his hands on some magic of his own. With the help of her librarian mentor, her best friends Josh and Alita, and a cute dragon-dog hybrid, Kit will have to find a way to save the dragon in the library — and maybe the world.

Why I like this book:

I really love introducing this wizarding series to emerging readers who aren’t ready for Harry Potter and other MG fantasy books. Louie Stowell creates an exciting and appealing adventure story with magical creatures, diverse characters, and an engaging plot with unexpected twists. The storytelling is straightforward and the pacing is fast and humorous. 

The three diverse friends are lovable characters, but have very different personalities. Kit is a spirited character who is reckless and makes a lot of mistakes. She’d rather play in a graveyard than read a book. When Kit is asked to read to children during story time, it is torture! Josh and Alita are smart, avid readers. Josh is always taking notes and keeping things straight. Alita is good at organizing, especially when they decide to hold a peaceful protest to “Save the Library.” An unlikely group of friends, they do support each other and work well together. Faith, the wizard librarian, is believable and grounds the story. There are many laughable moments. 

David Ortu’s pen and ink illustrations are playful. They capture the characters personalities, their reactions to stepping into the pages of a book, and their encounters with magical creatures. Ortu shares just enough art to spark readers imaginations! 

I really found this book a charming and humorous chapter book. There is a second book in the works, The Monster in the Lake, and the author leaves a lot of room for adventure and Kit’s character growth. I think Kit’s going to be an amazing wizard. This is the perfect summer adventure for young readers looking to escape into a world of magic, libraries, spells, a dragon-dog, and an evil villain!

Louie Stowell started her career writing carefully researched books about space, ancient Egypt, politics and science, but eventually lapsed into making things up. She likes writing about dragons, wizards, vampires, fairies, monsters and parallel worlds. Stowell lives in London with her wife, Karen; her dog, Buffy; and a creepy puppet that is probably cursed. Visit Stowell at her website.

Greg Pattridge hosts Marvelous Middle Grade Monday posts on his wonderful Always in the Middle website. Check out the link to see all of the wonderful reviews by KidLit bloggers and authors.

*Review copy provided by Walker Books in exchange for a review.