Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir, illustrated by Sarah Andersen

Published by Ten Speed Press

Image result for cheshire crossing amazon

Image result for cheshire crossing amazon

Summary:  Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz, Alice from Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan’s Wendy have all been in and out of institutions, diagnosed with dissociative psychosis for believing they can travel to other worlds.  They wind up together in a research lab, where Dr. Rutherford hopes to learn more about their powers. Alice, angry over her years feeling like a prisoner, steals Dorothy’s silver slippers and escapes to Oz.  The other two go after her, along with their nanny (who may or may not be Mary Poppins), and before long they are dropping in and out of Oz, Neverland, and Wonderland in an attempt to foil the Queen of Hearts, Wicked Witch of the West, and Captain Hook (the last two have a budding romance in Neverland).  Everyone is reunited back in the lab in the end, but a last page hints that there may be a sequel. 128 pages; grades 7-10.

Pros:  There’s plenty of girl power with these three, as they refuse to let anyone control their destinies or overshadow them in their adventures.  The artwork is gorgeous, and it’s great fun to see elements of the three familiar stories woven together.

Cons:  I was hoping this would find a home in my grade 4 and 5 library, but the frequent swears and sexual innuendos (there’s a great subplot where Peter Pan grows up, Alice shrinks him, and he has a thing with Tinkerbell) make it more appropriate for middle school and up.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Published by First Second

Image result for this was our pact amazon

Image result for this was our pact ryan andrews

Summary:  At the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, Nathaniel and his pals have agreed to follow the lanterns set afloat down the river.  Lots of kids ride along the river for awhile, but their group is going to find out once and for all where the lights end up. As they travel, though, the other kids turn back one by one until there are only two left: Nathaniel and Ben, the kid nobody likes who has been tagging along, unsuccessfully trying to join the group. Nathaniel begrudgingly agrees to travel with him, though, and the two end up on a madcap adventure where they meet a friendly bear on a quest, a tiny witch and her oversized dog, and some mysterious enlightened beings.  The two slowly bond over their shared experiences and narrow escapes, and by the end they’re still traveling, intent upon circumnavigating the world on their bicycles. 336 pages; grades 4-8.

Pros:  A graphic novel that would appeal to fans of Amulet, with its episodic plot involving ordinary mortals thrust into a magical world.  The dark-blue-and-black illustrations perfectly capture the feeling of a nighttime adventure.  We can hope for more of Nathaniel’s and Ben’s escapades on the road.

Cons:  The plot was pretty meandering.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe

Published by Disney Hyperion

Image result for sal and gabi break the universe amazon

Summary:  Sal is new at his Miami middle school, and right away he seems to have attracted the attention of bully Yasmany.  So Sal decides to play a trick on Yasmany: he reaches into another universe, pulls out a dead chicken, and puts it in Yasmany’s locker.  This prank gets him sent to the principal’s office, where he meets Gabi Real: a straight-A student, editor of the paper, president of the student council, and self-appointed counsel to defend Yasmany.  Sal and Gabi are both dealing with difficulties at home: Sal’s mom died several years ago, and Gabi’s baby brother Iggy is fighting for his life in the NICU. They become fast friends, Gabi admiring Sal’s sleight-of-hand magic skills and eventually learning about his abilities to manipulate parallel universes, which include occasional attempts to bring back his dead mother.  Much to their surprise, it turns out Gabi possesses a similar ability, and she and Sal must decide how to channel their powers for good, particularly when it comes to saving Iggy. 400 pages; grades 3-7.

Pros:  If the above description seems like a lot, trust me when I say that it only skims the surface of all that is in this book.  Did I mention Sal has diabetes? That the Cuban-American culture plays a big role in the story? That Gabi has at least ten dads?  That the story takes place in the near future, replete with artificial intelligence? This is easily the most fun book I’ve read this year, and I’m considering using it as the first selection for my fifth grade book club to suck unsuspecting 10-year-olds into a year of reading enjoyment.

Cons:  Seeing that this is part of the “Rick Riordan Presents” imprint, kids may be expecting more gods and monsters–this is a different kind of story, but I think it will still appeal to fans of Percy Jackson and other demigods.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

 

Teddy: The Remarkable Tale of a President, A Cartoonist, A Toymaker, and A Bear by James Sage, illustrated by Lisk Feng

Published by Kids Can Press

Image result for teddy the remarkable tale james sage amazon

Summary:  I’ve always had some vague notion that the teddy bear is named for Theodore (Teddy) Roosevelt, but thanks to this book, I now know the specifics.  When T.R. went on a bear-hunting trip to Mississippi, there was nary a bear to be found. His hosts finally found a small bear and tied it to a tree, but he refused to shoot it on the grounds that it would be unsportsmanlike.  Washington Post cartoonist Clifford Berryman, suffering from a slow news day, turned the anecdote into a cartoon that went viral.  It caught the eye of Brooklyn shopkeepers Morris and Rose Michtom. When Rose stitched up a replica of the bear and put it in the store window, stuffed animal history was made.  The Michtoms were overwhelmed by the demand, and opened the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company to crank out Teddy bears of all sizes and shapes. Includes an author’s note with a few photos that sorts out the fact and fiction of his story.  40 pages; ages 4-8.

Pros:  A fun telling of the (mostly) true story about the original Teddy bear.  

Cons:  Tying a bear to a tree to be shot.

Carm

I met this guy back in 1973, and we still hang out.  He “bears” an uncanny resemblance to the cover of this book.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here. Sorry, the bear is not for sale.

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

Published by Walden Pond Press

Image result for lost girl ursu amazon

Summary:  Identical twins Iris and Lark look the same, but they are very different people.  Lark is artistic and dreamy, always spinning fantastic stories from everyday items and happenings.  Iris sees herself as Lark’s protector, fiercely taking on anyone who tries to make fun of her. When their parents decide to put them into two different fifth grade classes, both girls are sure they’re in for a disaster.  As time goes on, it seems to Iris that they are right, as Lark has to deal with a teacher she calls “the ogre” who makes her do oral presentations and stressful math drills. Iris starts looking for answers at a mysterious new store in town called Treasure Hunters, whose strange proprietor seems to know more about her and Lark than he should.  An occasional first-person narrator also appears to have some unusual insights into the two girls, and slowly the reader sees that there is magic at play…and some of it is pretty dark. When Iris gets in over her head, it’s up to Lark and some awesome new friends to step in and save the day. 368 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  An enchanting mix of realism and fantasy, with a pretty blurry line between the two.  The themes of love and hate are explored in a unique and engaging way. This may make it on to some Newbery lists.

Cons:  I didn’t love this book as much as I felt like I should have.  Although I could appreciate the beautiful writing, it seemed slow to get going, and I could see kids abandoning it before the end.

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

Rise of the Dragons by Angie Sage

Published by Scholastic

Image result for rise of the dragons sage

Summary:  Sirin is dealing with the loss of her mother in a hardscrabble British city.  Joss and Allie are working off their 19-year indentured servitude after their parents were killed by Raptors (rogue dragons).  The cruel Lennix family is plotting a way to move to the Lost Lands where they can find more humans to keep their Raptors happy and well-fed.  When a baby silver dragon drops out of the sky, and Joss finds it, everything begins to change for all of the humans. Joss and the dragon, Lysander, bond with each other, neither one knowing that the rare silver dragons are the only ones who can travel to the Lost Lands.  The Lennix family learns of Lysander’s existence, and will stop at nothing to steal him away. All the stories converge at the end, which provides the perfect opening for the inevitable sequel in this new Scholastic series. Includes cards and directions for accessing an online game.  272 pages; grades 4-6.

Pros:  Before reading this dragon fantasy, I had read, um, zero dragon fantasies, so I’m no expert.  But after forcing myself to crack it open and read the first chapter, I found the story to be very engaging, with plenty of action and a big battle scene at the end.  The connection between our world and the dragons’ world is sure to intrigue readers.

Cons:  What’s next for me, binge-watching Game of Thrones?

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.

I wrote a book!

Remember the book A Wonderful Year by Nick Bruel?  Me neither.  It was the first book I reviewed on this blog on February 20, 2015, and I don’t think I’ve looked at it since.

Three days later I posted a review for The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, a book I still book talk many times a year and count among my favorite books of all times.

That’s the way it goes with reading.  Some books are just more memorable than others.

So when I realized that I’ve published almost 1,400 reviews, I decided it was time to do some weeding.  In a week or so, I’m going to take down the reviews from 2015 and 2016.  In preparation for this,  I’ve gone through all the books I’ve written about and picked out the ones I feel have stood the test of time.

I’ve compiled them into a book called Hit the Books: The Best of Kids Book A Day, 2015-2018.  There are about 150 books included; each entry has the summary I wrote on my blog and why it was included on the list.  They’re divided into eight sections: picture books, early readers, early chapter books, middle grade fiction, graphic novels, poetry, biography, and nonfiction.

I also put together ten lists of “Read-Alikes” from the books I’ve reviewed on the blog.  So if you have a fan of Diary of A Wimpy Kid or Raina Telgemeier, you can get some ideas for other books they might want to try.

Let me know if you find this book helpful.  Who knows, I may put together a second edition in another year or two!

If you would like to buy this book on Amazon, click here.