Sunday, April 23, 2017

Guest post from author Tracey Hecht

In anticipation of the release of The Fallen Star: The Nocturnals #3, author Tracey Hecht shares her thoughts on how books can act like movies to get kids excited about reading.

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Fabled Films Press
Books That Act Like Movies by Author TRACEY HECHT


Does your seven- to twelve-year-old like to watch TV?  YouTube videos?  Movies? Of course they do! And how could they not, when screens are everywhere and content abounds? But, about three years ago I thought to myself, why can’t books come back as a centerpiece of shared entertainment? Why can’t kids enjoy books with their friends the way they do apps or YouTube videos? Why must screens have all the fun?
Can’t we squeeze a book or two into the mix?!
Enter The Nocturnals


That’s why I wrote The Nocturnals, a middle grade series about a nocturnal brigade of animals. There’s Bismark, the loudmouthed, pint-sized sugar glider; Tobin, the gentle, bumbling pangolin; and Dawn, the clear-thinking fox. In each book, the Brigade explores the night realm with a tone and style that makes you feel like you’re “watching” when actually you’re reading. Right now, we’re on the third book, The Fallen Star. the Nocturnal Brigade awakens to find that all of the forest’s pomelos have been mysteriously poisoned. As they investigate the travesty, they encounter Iris, an eerie aye-aye, who claims that monsters from the moon are to blame. With animals rapidly falling ill, including Tobin, the Brigade must find the cure before the pomelo blight threatens to harm them all.


The 3-2-1


I write all the stories in what I call the 3-2-1. For every three words spoken by Bismark (remember, he’s the loudmouth), there are two words spoken by Tobin (sweet, little pangolin that he is) and one word by Dawn (the wise fox). It’s not literal of course, it’s much more like a ratio of 30-10-5, but the rhythm of the writing and the storytelling itself has a beat and an energy that keeps it snappy and conversational like a show. The story might veer towards intriguing or threatening, thrilling or calming, sweet or sincere, but the rhythm stays the same.


Keeping It Fun


This is important: don't make reading the thing your child has to do to earn something better (a.k.a. “If you read for a half hour, you can watch TV”). This develops reading as an obligation, not as a pleasure. Try instead to build reading into the parts of your day that will make it fun, like before bed—all kids like to postpone bedtime! Or, as an alternative to doing chores: “You can help me empty the dishwasher or you can read while I do it.” Or, with a great snack and time together: “Let's make a big bowl of buttered popcorn and get in bed with our books!”


After all, books are amazing! It’s time they take center screen.

*** A big thank-you to author Tracey Hecht for this guest post. ***

If you haven't read the previous books of The Nocturnals, look for them at your neighborhood library or bookstore. And watch for the release of The Fallen Star on May 2, 2017.

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Spring Reading 2017 The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora


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If you enjoy realistic fiction that deals with family, friends, community, and fighting for what you believe in - you should read The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora next. Arturo is a typical middle school student. He's happy about summer break and working in his family's restaurant to earn some spending money, while also dreading the weeks that his two best friends will be out of town. But things don't stay typical for long. For one thing, his mother's goddaughter Carmen comes into town. Carmen and her father are visiting for the summer, and they are both trying to recover from the loss of Carmen's mother. She is an intelligent and beautiful girl, so it is no surprise that Arturo develops a crush on her. Dealing with a first crush is enough of a challenge for one summer, but there is also his grandmother's failing health. His relationship with his Abuela is close, and she also gives him a box of letters from his Abuelo that capture his attention and inspire him to try new things. He draws upon the advice of his grandfather to have the courage to pursue the girl of his dreams, and to stand up to an unscrupulous land developer who threatens his family's restaurant with his plans for their neighborhood.

Filled with themes like the loss of a loved one, finding ways to preserve memories and traditions, dealing with attraction to a crush, and protecting the community from unwelcome changes, this is a story that has plenty of food for thought. There is also plenty of humor; things like his friend Bren trying to imitate his favorite rapper, his aunt Tuti's hysterical outbursts, and his disappointment at being named "junior lunchtime dishwasher" when he has hoped for a more glamorous job, all add the kind of laughs that occur in everyday life. The inclusion of Spanish phrases, descriptions of the foods served in the restaurant, and references to the Cuban poet Jose Marti immerse readers in the culture of Arturo's family and community, as well as giving a little background about the situation in Cuba that prompted his grandparents to come to America.

Middle grade readers and teachers will have a wonderful time following along as Arturo retells some of the most interesting weeks of his life (so far). As intriguing as a summer with Grandma Dowdell in A Year Down Yonder, I highly recommend it.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spring Reading 2017 I Will Love You Forever

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Miyanishi has a way of creating dinosaur characters that have incredibly human traits. In this latest story, the beginning is similar to that of Marcus Pfister's Dazzle the Dinosaur. A mother Maiasaura finds a lost egg and kindly brings it to her own nest to hatch it. And when it opens, that is where the tale diverges from the expected. It turns out that there is not a Maiasaura inside, but a dangerous type of dinosaur. The mother must make the choice to get rid of the baby to protect her own child, or keep it and raise it as a Maiasaur - hoping that nurture will win out over nature. 

This is a quandary that faces many parents who choose to foster or adopt; should they extend their family and take the chance that the newcomer will respond to their love and care? I can't tell you which choice the mother Maiasaura makes, because that would spoil the story for you. I can tell you that the conclusion of the story may leave you teary-eyed. 

I Will Love You Forever is the latest in the Tyrranosaurus Series to be translated. The characters and setting are created in the distinctive style Miyanishi is known for with cartoon style drawings and explosive colors. This vivid artistic presentation appeals to young readers, while the themes in the series (and this book in particular), are great discussion starters and deal with emotions and situations that more advanced readers can explore in more depth. Highly recommended for K+.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Chester Raccoon and the Almost Perfect Sleepover

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The Kissing Hand started a series of books featuring the lovable Chester Raccoon, a horde of fans young and old, and tons of teachers who enjoy using it for all sorts of lessons and activities. This latest book has Chester finally old enough to go on an overday (the nocturnal animal version of an overnight). His mother drops him off at his friend Pepper Opossum's home. Lots of other nocturnal animals are there, too - Stanley Squirrel, Badger, Cassie Raccoon, Sassafras Skunk, and Amber Porcupine. In typical sleepover style, they play games, have snacks, and finally get tucked in to sleep. Parents of youngsters who have been on their first sleepover will not be surprised by what happens as Chester tries to sleep in a strange place.

This will be a fun story to read with young children preparing for their own first sleepover, or to reminisce with those who have completed their first one. In classroom settings, it could be used with a study on nocturnal animals or habitats. (The list of snacks for the sleepover guests will be sure to elicit groans and calls of "Yuck!")

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 Funny Girl

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Editor Betsy Bird has collected some wonderfully funny writing, all by female writers. Well, there was one brother involved, but she assures us that they kept "him in line." (That would be Jennifer Holm's brother, Matt.) The book is a mix of graphic shorts, advice on various subjects, short stories (some semi-autobiographical), quizzes, and even MadLibs to predict your future. Whatever the chosen format, they are all humorous. There is Carmen Agra Deedy's story of her mother setting fire to the bathtub. Raina Telgemeier's "Killer Bee" incident. Mitali Perkins has a great "Brown Girl Pop Quiz" in which she points out that Western movies should be more like Bollywood productions. "Think of Jedi knights doing a choreographed number after the Death Star explodes," she suggests. The explanation of the Chinese Zodiac by Lenore Look includes things like lucky nail colors (if you are Rabbit, "None...The less noticeable your feet are, the better"), or unlucky career choices (for Monkey, "Involuntary astronaut in early space programs"). One of my favorites is the recurring "Fleamail" advice column by Bella and Rover, written by Deborah Underwood. This cat and dog team offer hilarious advice to other animals, once even trying out a "Pawed Cast" format.

If you know middle grade readers who are always asking for more "funny books," then you should add this to your shelf. Whether it is advice on playing imaginary games from Leila Sales or a babysitting comedy/horror tale from Shannon Hale, all the pieces in the collection fit the bill. On second thought, you had better buy multiple copies.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Spring Reading 2017 General Relativity for Babies

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How can you dislike a book that shows a pacifier seemingly being sucked into a black hole? At the very least that paci is warping space around it. Anyway, Chris Ferrie has distilled relativity down to its very basic tenets and presented it as a board book. (Picture physics concepts presented in the same way that Cozy Classics share great pieces of literature.) He starts with a ball, then goes on to explain mass, the effects of mass and space on each other, how that will affect particles, and ends up with black holes causing gravitational waves. I wouldn't blame people for using this book (or the entire series) as a sort of Cliff's Notes study guide. The graphics are very sparse and clean. There is only one concept presented per page. And it really is science in this wonderful little format. I can't wait to read the volume on rocket science.

If you have a budding genius in your household, or know one, or just think board books are cool - check out this book and its fellow titles.

I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Spring Reading 2017 Dream Magic (Shadow Magic, #2)

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Perhaps thirteen really is an unlucky number, or maybe your thirteenth year is unlucky if you happen to be Lady Lilith Shadow, ruler of Gehenna. (Don't read this next bit if you haven't already finished Shadow Magic.) In the first book of the series we learned that Lily's family had been killed by her uncle, who used magical artifacts in an effort to seize the kingdom. Now, as the lone survivor, she is the queen of the land and only thirteen years old.

In this second volume of her tale, Lily has still more problems to deal with. Her faithful nursemaid and companion has left the castle. The executioner Tyburn is missing. The trolls are on the march and heading towards Castle Gloom. Villagers are disappearing. A strange wizard attacks the castle and steals a magical key. Eerie crystalline spiders seem to be coming from nowhere and attacking people. Rumor has it that other kingdoms are sending assassins after Lily, because they fear her magic. How much can one girl handle?

At least she has a few trusted friends to help out. Thorn, the squire (and former poacher), is ready to do whatever Lily needs from him - even take lessons with the dancing master. Hades, the giant bat, still comes when Thorn needs him and can help with the search for the missing. Lily has befriended a young troll named Dott who was found alone in the Spindlewood. And, of course, there are all the undead. So, can a young queen, a squire, a misplaced troll, and some zombies manage to save the day?

Author Joshua Khan continues the world-building of Gehenna and the other realms in his fantasy series. We find out more of Lily's family history, more of the background of each of the other royal houses, and more of the Gehennish people and customs. Some things they have in common with us, including tales of a boy with wings made of feathers and wax or a princess who can be awakened with a kiss. Other things are very different; a doctor who sews zombies back together, royalty who become living flames if they indulge their magic too much, and flying ships, for example.

Readers who enjoy fantasy with swords, sorcery, and similar elements will find the Shadow Magic series an entertaining read. I read an e-book provided by the publisher through NetGalley.