Tuesday, January 31, 2012

New fantasy and mystery books for young readers

Mystery and fantasy can be a great combination for young readers. Here are some stories that mix fantasy and adventure with a touch of the mysterious. Fast-paced, entertaining and sometimes funny (meet Esmeralda Lightfoot, a nosy hedgehog ...), these books are just right for a chance to escape into fantasy!

No Passengers Beyond This Point, by Gennifer Choldenko (Dial Books) Fantasy. With hardly any warning, siblings India, Mouse, and Finn Tompkins are sent to stay with an uncle in Colorado when the bank forecloses on their house. But after their plane lands, a bizarre feathered taxi whisks them away to a strange, fantastical place called Falling Bird. There, each of them is given a perfect house -- and a mysterious clock that is ticking down to the time when they'll have to decide whether to stay there forever. It's all quite baffling, but anyone who likes fast-paced, unusual fantasy adventures with well-drawn characters will enjoy the ride.

The Missing Magic, by Lexi Connor (Scholastic) Fantasy. Now that Beatrix (a.k.a. "B") is 11, she should be able to cast spells with rhymes like everyone else in her magical family, but no matter how hard she tries, she fails. Then a new English teacher comes to B's school, and B realizes -- maybe a bit later than she'd have liked, as she casts some spells accidentally -- that her unnaturally perfect spelling ability is the key to her powers. This fun, lighthearted, and easy-to-read fantasy is the first of five books (so far!) in the B Magical series; want more? The Trouble with Secrets is the second story.

Sundered Lands: Trundle's Quest, by Allan Frewin Jones; illustrated by Gary Chalk (Greenwillow Books) Animal Fantasy. Mild-mannered hedgehog Trundle Boldoak likes his simple, cozy life as Port Shiverstone's town lamplighter. But his world is turned upside-down the night he meets Esmeralda Lightfoot, a spitfire hedgehog who insists that Trundle has a destiny to fulfill, and the two of them are attacked by vicious pirates. As they flee from the bloodthirsty buccaneers, Esmeralda and Trundle fall off of their planet, onto a windship, and into a whole host of wild and dangerous adventures! Fans of Brian Jacques' Redwall books are sure to enjoy this story, which is filled with memorable animal friends (and foes) and packed with action.

A Tale of Two Castles, by Gail Carson Levine (Harper) Fantasy Mystery. When 12-year-old Elodie journeys from her family's farm to the city of Two Castles, she hopes to secure an apprenticeship as a "Mansioner," or actor. But Mansioners' apprentices must pay for their learning, and when Elodie's only coin is stolen, she instead accepts an apprenticeship with a wise and kindly dragon named Meenore, who is (among other things) a detective. Together, Meenore and Elodie investigate a series of threats against the shape-shifting ogre Count Jonty Um -- and must clear Elodie's name when she is falsely accused of a crime. This fast-paced and unpredictable adventure is a wild ride.

Beyonders: A World Without Heroes, by Brandon Mull (Aladdin) Fantasy. In this new series opener by the author of Fablehaven, 13-year-old Jason Walker is suddenly (and unexpectedly) transported from the hippo pool of a Colorado zoo to a strange world called Lyrian. At first, Jason's only concern is finding a way back home, but as he gets to know the downtrodden citizens of Lyrian, he is drawn into a plot to rid the realm of its ruler, the tyrannical evil wizard Maldor. With wonderfully inventive creatures, clever dialogue, and nearly non-stop action, A World Without Heroes will leave you eager for the next exciting volume of the Beyonders series.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Stories about facing challenges for young readers

Growing up can take all kinds of twists and turns -- funny, scary, challenging. Here's a group of stories about how young characters face the ups and downs of life through sports, family, and school. Learning to use brains and a bit of courage helps a lot -- and makes for good reading, too!

Hound Dog True, by Linda Urban (Harcourt Children's Books) Realistic Fiction. Mattie has always been "that shy girl," and her mother's habit of pulling up stakes every time things get tough hasn't made it any easier for her to make friends. Now the two of them are going to live with Mattie's Uncle Potluck, who is the custodian at the school where she'll soon be starting fifth grade. While helping Uncle Potluck get things ready for the start of the school year, Mattie jots down his words of "custodial wisdom" in her notebook...and hatches a plan to avoid facing the other kids at school altogether. This hopeful novel about a shy girl becoming brave is one that fans of great characters and emotional stories will love.

Love of the Game, by John Coy (Feiwel and Friends) Realistic Fiction. What with bullies on the bus, hardly any classes with his friends, and some difficult changes at home, sixth-grader Jackson Kennedy hopes that playing on the football team will be his one bright spot in the new school year. But Jackson's mom and his friends' mothers are all worried that football isn't safe -- and the guys may not get to join the team. This believable novel is a quick read and will please fans of sports stories that also deal with the ups and downs of adjusting to middle school, such as Tiki Barber's Kickoff!

Vanishing Acts, by Phillip Margolin and Ami Margolin Rome (HarperCollins Children's Books) Mystery. At the start of seventh grade, Madison Kincaid and her new friend Jake have a mystery to solve: it seems that Madison's best friend, Ann, never returned from her summer vacation abroad. Meanwhile, Madison secretly helps her attorney father solve a missing-persons case that might involve Madison's teacher. With believable drama, intense courtroom scenes, and a hint of romance, this 1st volume in a new mystery series set in Portland, Oregon will be welcomed by Nancy Drew fans who'd like something a bit more modern.

Breadcrumbs, by Anne Ursu; illustrated by Erin McGuire (Walden Pond Press) Fantasy. Ten-year-old Hazel Anderson isn't happy; her parents have split, and she's had to switch to a new school where neither the kids nor the teachers understand her. She figures that as long as she has her best friend, Jack, she'll be okay...and then Jack disappears. Determined to rescue him, Hazel ventures into the snowy Minnesota woods where she last saw Jack -- and discovers a frightening magical world full of mystery and danger. If you enjoyed the mix of reality and the fantastical in Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me, or if you like haunting, poetic stories that pull in bits and pieces from fairy tales and other books, be sure not to miss Breadcrumbs.

Pie, by Sarah Weeks (Scholastic) Mystery. When Alice's beloved Aunt Polly -- the undisputed "Pie Queen" of Ipswich, Massachusetts -- dies, Alice is devastated. Then she learns that Aunt Polly left the secret recipe for her unbeatable pie crust to her cranky cat, Lardo...and Polly bequeathed Lardo to Alice. After Lardo is kidnapped and Aunt Polly's bakery is ransacked, it's clear that someone wants the recipe very badly, and Alice and her friend Charlie are determined to figure out who it is. Sad in some parts and hilarious in others, this cozy small-town mystery set in 1955 is a good choice for readers who liked Joan Bauer's similarly food-oriented, feel-good novel Close to Famous.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

More books for fans of the Ranger's Apprentice series

If you like the Ranger's Apprentice series, try one of the books below. They're all exciting stories with fast-paced, action-packed fantasy adventure. Tween readers will enjoy the carefully rendered, medieval settings, details of battles and warfare, and stories about heroes who work behind the scenes. Any of them should keep you entertained while you wait your turn to check out John Flanagan's latest book set in Skandia, The Outcasts (first in a new series called The Brotherband Chronicles.)

Revenge of the Witch, by Joseph Delaney (Greenwillow Books) Horror. Young Tom Ward, the seventh son of a seventh son, is the new apprentice of Mr. Gregory, the village Spook, whose job is to protect ordinary folk from "ghouls, boggarts, and all manner of wicked beasties." Seventh sons can see things most people can't (such as ghosts), but even with this special ability, Tom still struggles to learn his new job. When Tom is left in charge while Mr. Gregory is away, he accidentally allows a dangerous witch to escape -- and that's only the beginning of his troubles. While The Last Apprentice series is scarier than the Ranger's Apprentice books, both are set in vaguely medieval worlds and offer action-packed adventures about heroes who do their work in secret.

The Land of the Silver Apples, by Nancy Farmer (Atheneum Books) Fantasy. Apprentice bard Jack, whom fans of this series met in The Sea of Trolls, ventures underground into the world of hobgoblins and elves in this 2nd adventure rich in myth and magic. Jack's sister Lucy hasn't seemed quite right since the midwinter ritual, and when the two of them travel to a monastery to find help for her, Lucy is kidnapped (again). Now Jack must journey to the Land of the Silver Apples in search of her, getting help from the freed slave girl Pega and shield maiden Thorgil. Readers who are fascinated by Norse myths, Pict legends, or early Christianity will be mesmerized by Jack's world, into which all of these (and more) are woven.

Outlaw: The Legend of Robin Hood, by Tony Lee (Candlewick Press) Graphic Novel. In Crusades-era England, the Sheriff of Nottingham rules with an iron fist. But in the haunted heart of Sherwood Forest, a defiant rogue disguises himself to become an outlaw -- a hero known as Robin Hood. Sure, it's a familiar story; but whether you have heard only once or many times about the man who stole from the rich and gave to the poor, you'll still want to check out this thrilling comic-book interpretation of the tale. Its breathtaking artwork will please graphic novel fans, and its exciting action will be a hit with devotees of the Ranger's Apprentice adventures.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit, by Nahoko Uehashi; translated by Cathy Hirano and illustrated by Yuko Shimizu (Arthur A. Levine Books) Fantasy. Martial-arts expert Balsa wanders the land, saving lives on a personal quest of atonement. After she rescues a boy from drowning, Balsa learns that the boy is Prince Chagum -- and that he's possessed by a water demon. The Empress hires Balsa as Prince Chagum's bodyguard, and the two of them set out on a journey to defeat the demon and protect the land from a devastating drought...but will the price be Chagum's life? Rich with family secrets and "complex mythologies" (Kirkus Reviews), this action-packed novel will thrill fans of its anime adaptation as well as those who loved the medieval Japanese setting of The Emperor of Nihon-ja (the 10th Ranger's Apprentice book).

The Extraordinary Adventures of Alfred Kropp, by Rick Yancey (Bloomsbury) Adventure. When extra-large underachiever Alfred Kropp reluctantly agrees to help his Uncle Farrell, a night watchman, steal a valuable sword from his uncle's workplace, he has no idea that he'll be called on to save the world. It turns out that the sword is none other than King Arthur's Excalibur -- and when the heist goes awry, the legendary weapon falls into the hands of a madman bent on global domination. Monks with sabers, Agents of Darkness on motorcycles, white-knuckle car chases, high-tech weapons and a touch of gore (heads literally roll in one battle) all figure in this thrilling story of Alfred's transformative journey from loser to valiant hero.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

New science fiction worlds to discover

Science fiction is filled with enough new unexplored worlds to fill an entire universe. Here are some recent sci-fi books for teen and tween readers that will take them to the furthest reaches of their imagination. There's no need to stay earth-bound with these stories and series!

Worldshaker, by Richard Harland (Simon & Schuster) Steampunk. Groomed to be the successor to his grandfather, the Supreme Commander of the city-sized ship Worldshaker, 16-year-old Colbert Porpentine fully believes his family's contention that the underprivileged classes are little more than animals. But then he meets Riff, a "Filthy" who has fled her life on the ship's lower decks, and he learns the truth. Rife with dark secrets and lightened with a touch of romance, this steampunk science fiction is fast-paced, exciting, and will thrill fans of detailed world-building with its careful descriptions of the ship and its stubbornly Victorian society.

The Lab, by Jack Heath (Scholastic Press) Science Fiction. Far into the future, the world is devastated by pollution, and the single walled city that remains is controlled entirely by the corrupt ChaoSonic corporation. The only hope for the downtrodden populace is the Deck, a secret organization that's sworn to take down ChaoSonic -- and whose best operative is a product of ChaoSonic's lab, genetically enhanced Agent Six of Hearts. But Agent Six has just been captured. Readers fond of the high-octane action and suspense in James Patterson's Maximum Ride books or Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider series will be glued to this thrill ride.

The Resisters, by Eric S. Nylund (Random House) Alien SF. Life seems normal and pleasant enough to 12-year-old Ethan Blackwood...until he learns that the world he believes to be real is nothing but a carefully crafted illusion. Diabolical aliens with the ability to control people's minds took over Earth decades ago, and a few brave kids (the mind-control only works on adults) are the only ones still fighting them. This thrilling and action-packed novel, written by a story consultant for Microsoft Game Studios, is a sure bet for video-game buffs and fans of Orson Scott Card's ever-popular Ender's Game.

Only You Can Save Mankind, by Terry Pratchett (HarperTrophy) Humorous Science Fiction. To escape his parents' marital strife and the non-stop TV coverage of the Gulf War, Johnny Maxwell plays video games (badly). But when Johnny's hacker buddy, Wobbler, gives him a bootleg copy of a computer game called Only You Can Save Mankind, something unusual happens. The game's alien invaders surrender to him, which is completely outside the parameters of the game, and ask for his protection from their human assailants. That's only the beginning of the weirdness in this thought-provoking first volume of the Johnny Maxwell trilogy, which fans of British humor -- and Vivian Vande Velde's novel Heir Apparent -- will especially love.

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity, by Dave Roman (First Second) Graphic Novel. Aside from having awesome hair, Hakata Soy is hoping to just be a normal kid at Astronaut Academy, a school in space that offers classes like Anti-Gravity Gymnastics and Wearing Cute Hats. But his superhero past won't be easy to shake -- especially when a robot that looks exactly like Hakata comes to kill him. If you like zany adventures with lots of action and a manga-like flair, be sure not to miss this grab bag of a story that mixes in middle-school drama, sweet romance, goofy villains, and outer-space dinosaur racing.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Koalas, coral reefs, a trip around the world: new kids' books for the winter blahs

When it's cold and wintry outside, books can give kids a chance to escape the bad weather without leaving the house. Here's a group of fantasy, non-fiction, and picture books for young readers that will help warm up the imagination!

Coral Reefs, by Jason Chin (Roaring Brook Press) Nonfiction. In this follow-up to the award-winning Redwoods, a girl pulls a book about coral reefs off of a library shelf and, as she reads its ordinary yet informative text, experiences something quite marvelous. As in Redwoods, this book's words present interesting facts about a particular ecosystem -- while its illustrations tell a completely different story (here's a hint: in Redwoods, a bustling city corner changes into a forest right before the reader's eyes). If you like nature, science, or art, there's something in Coral Reefs just for you.

Killer Koalas from Outer Space: And Lots of Other Very Bad Stuff that Will Make Your Brain Explode! by Andy Griffiths; illustrated by Terry Denton (Feiwel & Friends) Graphic Novel. Sensitive readers who aren't fond of random violence or jokes about poop should just skip right to the next book in this list. The rest of you are going to enjoy Killer Koalas from Outer Space! It's a collection of short, ridiculously funny tales in comics form by the best-selling Australian author of The Day My Butt Went Psycho. Yes, there are killer koalas, but there are also killer giraffes -- as well as an abundance of gross-out moments and several fiendishly fractured fairy tales -- and it's all zany, wacky, icky fun.

If You Lived Here: Houses of the World, by Giles Laroche (Houghton Mifflin) Picture book. Are you fascinated by different types of houses? This book presents intricate, nearly-3D collage illustrations of dwellings from many regions of the world and throughout history -- from a Southern U.S. "dogtrot log house" to a Chilean palafitos (a house raised on stilts) to a Mongolian yurt and more! In addition to describing a wide variety of dwellings, this unusual book also briefly explains how different people live -- and why they live the way they do. For another book that compares life in different cultures (and has a similar style of pictures), check out Jeannie Baker's award-winning Mirror.

Secrets at Sea: A Novel, by Richard Peck; illustrated by Kelly Murphy (Dial Books) Fantasy. It's the late 1880s, and house-mouse Helena and her siblings have a dilemma: the human family whose home they occupy is making a voyage overseas -- meaning that crumbs will be in short supply for a while -- but mice are terrified of water. As head of her household since her parents' demise, Helena makes the bold call to stow away in the Cranstons' luggage, and many ship-board adventures follow. Clever, fun, and packed with memorable characters, this animal fantasy should be a winner with fans of other mousy tales like Lois Lowry's Bless This Mouse or Avi's Poppy.

Around the World, by Matt Phelan (Candlewick Press) Graphic Novel. This exciting true story in comic-book form traces the paths of three 19th century adventurers who, inspired by Jules Verne's fictional Around the World in Eighty Days, each travel around the world solo. Thomas Stevens, once a miner, rides a bicycle from California to Massachusetts and then (after crossing the ocean on a ship) all the way to Japan; fearless reporter Nellie Bly aims to circumnavigate the globe faster than her fictional counterpart; and retired sea captain Joshua Slocum attempts to become the first person ever to sail all the way around the world alone.