This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

Published by First Second

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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.

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Comics: Easy As ABC!: The Essential Guide to Comics for Kids by Ivan Brunetti

Published by TOON Books

Image result for easy as abc comics ivan amazon

Image result for easy as abc comics ivan

Summary:  Budding cartoonists will enjoy this drawing book that gives how-to’s on drawing people and animals, as well as creating perspective and communicating emotions through body language and facial expressions.  A few prompts are given to encourage readers to create their own stories. Advice is offered from some heavy-hitters in the comic world, including Roz Chast, Neil Gaiman, Jeff Smith, and Art Spiegelman. There’s a section at the end for parents, teachers, and librarians on reading comics to kids (I believe this is standard in many of the TOON books).  52 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  Fun and accessible for many elementary-age kids, this is a good basic introduction to get graphic novel fans busy on their own creations.

Cons:  Each section is pretty brief; serious artists will outgrow this fairly quickly.

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Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis

Published by Walker Books

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Image result for queen of the sea dylan meconis

Summary:  Margaret has spent her whole life in an island convent, cut off from the rest of the world except for twice-a-year visits from a ship bringing supplies.  When she is six years old, a boy named William and his mother arrive with one of the shipments. They stay for several years, and the two children become good friends; when William’s mother dies, though, he decides to leave and seek his fortune in the larger world.  Soon he is replaced with a new visitor–the mysterious Eleanor, accompanied by the cruel nun Sister Mary Clemence. As Margaret grows older, she starts to learn the secrets of the island and its inhabitants, including her own shocking story that changes everything. Based on the early years of Queen Elizabeth I (fictionalized as Eleanor), this story ends on a cliffhanger as Eleanor and Margaret prepare to escape the island to an uncertain fate.  393 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  I’ve never predicted that two graphic novels would win the Newbery in a single year, but this and Jerry Craft’s The New Kid are two of the best books I’ve read this year.  There are so many details about the history of the early Elizabethan period and convent life here, all unobtrusively woven into the story so that readers won’t even notice that they’re being educated.  And the characters are all so memorable that I wasn’t as challenged to keep them all straight as I sometimes am with graphic novels. I am praying to Saint Elysia for a sequel.

Cons:  It’s a heavy book and seems like the kind of pages that will quickly begin to part with the binding.

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Just Jaime by Terri Libenson

Published by Balzer + Bray

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Image result for just jaime libenson

Image result for just jaime libenson

Summary:  It’s the last day of seventh grade, and Jaime and Maya are having some major friendship issues.  For the past few months, they’ve been hanging out with Celia and Grace, and Jaime has increasingly felt pushed away.  She starts the day determined to confront Maya about it, while Maya is planning to convey Celia’s news that Jaime is out of the group.  When Maya finally sends her text, Jaime is devastated, and seeks solace in French teacher Madame Zukosky’s classroom.  She rallies for an afternoon of field day, realizing who her true friends are, and beginning to reach out to new ones.  Readers of Terri Libenson’s other books, Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy will recognize many of the characters, including Maya and Jaime.  The story is told in a similar format to the other two, with Jaime’s story in illustrated text and Maya’s in comic book style.  The road to the end of seventh grade is definitely a bumpy one, but both Jaime and Maya persevere to a happy ending. 247 pages; grades 4-7.

Pros:  Terri Libenson has her finger firmly on the pulse of 12- and 13-year-olds; anyone who has survived middle school–or is in the process of doing so–will recognize many of the situations and kids.  That, combined with the graphic format, makes this a great choice for reluctant readers.

Cons:  There was a bit of a twist at the end, but not nearly as fun and surprising as the ones in the first two books.

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I Am Hermes!: Mischief-Making Messenger of the Gods by Mordicai Gerstein

Published by Holiday House

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Image result for i am hermes mordicai gerstein

Summary:  As he did with I Am Pan!, Mordicai Gerstein has collected myths featuring Pan’s father, Hermes.  Starting as a precocious baby who “wants it all!”, Hermes grows up in a single day from a round orange toddler to a lean orange messenger whose winged feet help him deliver communications to the gods.  After Zeus and the other gods and goddesses decide to retire, Hermes experiments with smoke signals, messenger pigeons, the pony express, and the U.S. mail before finding the perfect medium for communicating: the Internet!  Includes an author’s note that describes Hermes as the “most likable and happiest” of the Greek gods and tells how Gerstein came to create this book. 72 pages; grades 2-5.

Pros:  A fun and gentle introduction to mythology that introduces many of the Greek gods and goddesses, but focuses on their wackiness without taking anything too seriously.  Kids will enjoy the graphic novel format and colorful illustrations.

Cons:  Some readers may fail to see the humor in a round orange baby wanting everything he can see who winds up being king of the Internet.

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Operatic by Kyo Maclear, illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

Published by Groundwood Books

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Image result for operatic kyo maclear

Summary:  Charlie is finishing up eighth grade; Mr. K., her favorite teacher, assigns everyone in the class to perform a favorite song for the end of the year.  As Charlie tries to figure out what her song will be, she reflects on changes that have taken place during the year. Specifically, she can’t forget a boy named Luka who refused to conform to middle school expectations, and was bullied until he left school.  Both Luka and Charlie have had crushes on the same boy, Emile. As the weeks go by, Mr. K. introduces the class to different types of music. Nothing resonates with Charlie until they get to opera. She finds herself drawn to Maria Callas, and connects with some of the details of her early life and singing career.  Maria’s ability to always go her own way inspires Charlie to reach out to Luka, and she is able to help him find his way back to school. Charlie, Luka, Emile, and another friend find the courage to perform a band called Freaks of Feeling; at the end the band gives Charlie tickets to the opera as a birthday gift. 160 pages; grades 5-8.

Pros:  This book really captures adolescence, and the tension between conforming and being yourself.  Music fans will enjoy Charlie’s insights about how kids find connections based on the kind of music they enjoy.

Cons:  I didn’t entirely understand the whole Charlie-Emile-Luka dynamic.

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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!

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