Friday, June 10, 2011

Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity, by Dave Roman (fiction) - middle school in outer space!

It's Fun Friday - Time for school in space! Yes, Dave Roman's new graphic novel takes us straight to Astronaut Academy, with a curriculum you just won't believe. Oh, some things in middle school are the same even in outer space (the principal, snarky former best friends), but Astronaut Academy's variations on ball games and emergency drills are amazing.

Of course, Hakata Soy's crime-fighting superhero past may catch up with him...

The former comics editor of Nickelodeon Magazine took advantage of its closing to concentrate on his own cartooning, so watch for more of his self-published minicomics to grow into full-fledged books.

Dave is married to Raina Telgemeier who wrote and drew Smile (5/13/11 featured book) - yes, he proposed to her via webcomic! Just imagine two cartoonists in the same apartment... I heard them at a Texas Library Association presentation in April, then met Dave again in May at International Reading Association. Just waiting for their next books!

Book info: Astronaut Academy / by Dave Roman. First Second, 2011 [author interview] [publisher site] [book trailer] [selected pages]

My Recommendation: Everyone else is already at Astronaut Academy, but Hakata is late for school! A few weeks late, since he and his mecha-friends were busy saving the world of Hoppiton from the terrible Gotcha Birds.

Senor Panda teaches Spanish (and spying), Doug just wants to wear his spacesuit and stay out on spacewalk all day, and Marcos wonders why at least one of Hakata’s hearts is broken. If the Gotcha Birds decide to attack Astronaut Academy to get the bunny students from Hoppiton, it could disrupt the Fireball Tournament!!

Students, teachers, and non-students take turns telling/showing their stories in this wacky graphic novel – does your Astronaut Academy have classes in Advanced Heart Studies, Fire Throwing, Run-on Sentences, and Wearing Cute Hats? (you can’t win Dinosaur Driving Races if you don’t wear a Cute Hat... just ask Maribelle Mellonbelly)

Action! Adventure! Oxygen gum and flashbacks! The first semester at Astronaut Academy has it all…with an extra helping of funny! (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Heart of a Samurai (fiction)

A true story becomes even more real in the hands of a talented author.

As we read Heart of a Samurai, we experience the horror that Manjiro and his fellow fishermen felt on the 1840s whaling ship, the sad knowledge that they are forbidden to return home to Japan by their own emperor, the prejudice that John Mung finds in his adoptive New England town.

Interesting to note that another young man was the first known Japanese to arrive in the US, several years before Manjiro, but Otokichi never returned to live in his homeland.

Yes, Heart of a Samurai is a Newbery Honor Book for 2011, but it isn't yet the bestseller that it deserves to be.

Book info: Heart of a Samurai / by Margi Preus. Amulet, 2010. [author's website] [author interview] [publisher site]

Recommendation: Big-nosed barbarians! A ship larger than 7 fishing boats! Is it rescue…or capture? Young Manjiro was not sure what to tell the 4 other Japanese fishermen who had drifted to a rocky island after a storm in 1841, barely surviving.

But the captain of the American whaling ship is kind to them, and Manjiro begins to learn English and help aboard ship. The Japanese are horrified when whales are slaughtered only for their blubber, wasting enough meat to feed many villages. Alas, they will never see their home village again, since the Emperor has decreed that no Japanese that leaves their islands may ever return, just as no foreigners may ever enter that country.

Reaching Hawaii, Captain Whitfield gives the fishermen new clothes and money to help them settle there. He asks Manjiro if he would like to continue whaling and to go to America with him – as his son! Manjiro’s adventurous heart answers yes, and he becomes the first Japanese to visit the United States when their ship reaches New Bedford in 1843. Some folks accept John Mung (as his shipmates call Manjiro), but others do not.

When Captain Whitfield goes to sea again, he leaves John to look over the rest of the family. Working on the Whitfields’ farm, going to school, even riding a horse like a samurai – what other son of a village fisherman ever had such wealth and experiences?

After training as a navigator, John signs on with another whaling ship whose captain goes crazy when month after month passes with no signs of whales for capture. Will the crew of the Franklin survive? Can Manjiro ever return to Japan?

Based on a true story, this exciting book includes illustrations by Manjiro himself, plus glossaries of Japanese words, whaling terms, and sailors’ lingo. Travel the high seas during whaling’s glory days as you learn how a humble fisherboy grows up to have the heart of a true samurai. (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

X Isle (fiction)

For World Oceans Day, a frightening possible future for Earth as climate change and melting glaciers threaten to drown humanity.

So, diving to salvage canned goods from flooded supermarkets would help your chances of survival - relying on the brutal Ecks brothers and their extremely crazy father Preacher John would definitely reduce your chances...

Clever kids will always find innovative solutions to problems, even if there's only a 33% chance that their gassy output will have enough methane to make their invention work.

Survival and escape - a classic adventure story theme set in a watery dystopia - can the guys really make it off X Isle alive?

Book info: X Isle / by Steve Augarde. David Fickling Books/Random House, 2009. Paperback Nov.2011 [author's website] [author's blog] [publisher site]

Recommendation: The seas rise to drown the Earth, leaving inland cities as islands, the remaining humans desperate to survive. Everyone knows that X Isle is the best place to be, where the salvage divers bring up food and supplies from sunken shops and stores.

The Ecks family trades salvaged canned goods to the mainlanders for fuel, sometimes taking a lucky boy to work with them, if his parents have something special to send along with him, and he’s small and strong. A boy who’s too big to feed is sent back from the island, of course.

This day, both Baz and Ray are chosen to go to X Isle, where Preacher John prays for the survival of humanity. They’re sure that there must be many, many boys working there, but are surprised to find only eight and are shocked to find out what they must really do.

When they learn that no one makes it off X Isle alive, the boys all decide that they must invent a weapon to free themselves, using their best resource – methane gas from farts. But will they really be willing to destroy their captors? Can they be as brutal as their guards and the Ecks brothers and the increasingly crazy Pastor John? (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (fiction)

Until it's grown, you don't known if that weedy stuff is crabgrass or horrible, clawing grassburrs.

Likewise, Jacob didn't realize that the monsters that Grandpa warned him about were real until it was too late, as he looks up from the dying man to see the horrifying creature...and the monster sees Jacob.

Author Ransom Riggs started collecting old photos some years ago, drawn to the captions often written on them. For the most peculiar images, he began inventing their backstories and what the oddest captions might have been.

In this thriller, Riggs' imagination has gone far beyond those idea seeds planted by the old photos, as he brings the "peculiar children" to life, as well as the monsters that pursue them...and Jacob.

Book info: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children / by Ransom Riggs. Quirk Books, 2011. [author's blog] [publisher site] [book trailer]

Recommendation: Jacob stopped believing in Grandpa’s monster stories years ago, but what else could kill someone so thoroughly? Fatally attacked, Grandpa gasps that Jacob “must go to the island” where he will be safe, as he sees the blackened creature of his nightmares disappear into the Florida woods.

Now 16 year old Jacob has the nightmares, the monster alternating with the old photos of “peculiar children” who were his grandpa’s friends at the Welsh orphanage which rescued him from the Holocaust – an invisible boy, the floating girl…real or faked? Clues found at Grandpa’s house convince him that he must find that island and the orphanage, or go insane!

Thankfully, his psychiatrist agrees, so Jacob and his dad head for Wales, and the mystery grows deeper. If the orphanage was bombed-out in 1940, how did Grandpa get there later? Why can Jacob hear voices in the old building when no one else can? Who is following them on the tiny island?

As the past and present tangle and unravel, Jacob finds the old photos to be new truths as the monsters pursue children for their peculiar talents. A chilling debut novel for very mature readers which ponders how the balance point between good and evil loops through human history…
(One of 5,000 books recommended on

Monday, June 6, 2011

Diamond Ruby (fiction)

Yes, girls can be baseball stars! But when the men with the money and the men with the clout got involved, early 20th century dreams faded for talented women, like Jackie Mitchell who faced the great Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the 1930s - and struck them out!

Mitchell's brief career struck a chord with author Wallace, who took the idea of a phenomenal female pitcher into the Roaring 20s of baseball-mad New York City.

Ruby faces incredible odds to keep her family together following the Spanish Influenza epidemic which killed more people than World War I. She encounters good guys like Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, bad ones with the KKK and organized crime, as well as women's rights activists and folks on both sides of the Prohibition issue.

A great story and a great baseball story (and a happy birthday today to MB, Braves-loving gal and baseball fan extraordinaire!).

Book info: Diamond Ruby / Joseph Wallace. Touchstone, 2011. [author's website] [publisher site] [book trailers one and two]

Recommendation: Ruby’s pitches were straight and true, but girls weren’t allowed to play baseball in 1913. She kept practicing in secret, through the end of World War I and the Spanish influenza epidemic that ravaged her neighborhood and wiped out most of her family.

It was her pitching skills that kept her orphaned nieces alive into the 1920s, first to put squirrels into their soup pot, then as Ruby became a speed pitcher for a Coney Island sideshow. Amanda kept the speed-sensing machine working, Allie posted the pitch speed, and “Diamond Ruby” hurled pitch after pitch, seven days a week, equaling the velocity of most major league pitchers. Her extra-long arms were good for something at least.

Her amazing pitching performances drew celebrities, like Babe Ruth and Jack Dempsey, as well as the attention of women’s rights activists, organized crime bosses, and a minor league baseball team that needed publicity to stay alive, but needed a great pitcher even more.

Could Ruby really earn enough money by pitching to keep her small family intact? Can she keep her new friends from harm during the raucous days of Prohibition? Can she keep on pitching accurately despite threats, violence, and blatant prejudice?

This intriguing tale of survival, grit, and amazing athletic skill, set amid the glitter and glare of the Big Apple’s speakeasies and rum-runners, is inspired by a real woman pitcher of the era. Play ball, Ruby! (One of 5,000 books recommended on

Sunday, June 5, 2011

YA saves! YA books cover every subject & emotion

I wasn't gonna post today, but yesterday's Wall Street Journal article about YA books "Darkness Too Visible" has me and lots of other folks pretty steamed up.

Check the Twitter conversation #YASaves for reaction from authors, readers, and librarians; we gotta wonder about the article author's qualifications as a book reviewer... (search her name and tell us what you think)

Did she ask any independent bookstore folks about what books they would recommend to the worried mom in paragraph one? How about her child's school librarian? Or their public librarian?

Maureen Johnson (whose 13 Little Blue Envelopes and The Last Little Blue Envelope are bestsellers and won't get the full BooksYALove treatment - so just go read them!) has a new favorite picture, by Anastasiy Gorbunov, which illustrates exactly how books lead to new interests and visions and experiences. (The caption translates as “Reading isn’t dangerous. Not reading is.”)

Dr. Teri Lesesne, "the goddess of YA literature" and major expert in the field, was explosively ticked-off by the article, as her LiveJournal today shows. The points that she notes there are exactly why YA books are so important, and why I'm trying to get the word out about the great titles that you'll miss if you don't dig past the big display stacks at the big-box bookstores or the "you'll like this one" lists at the big online retailers.

Too bad that the mom in the WSJ article didn't have someone to help her find that great book for her 13 year-old daughter... like Smile and Dancing Through the Snow and Sequins, Secrets and Silver Linings... sigh...

At least the #YASaves hashtag is trending high right now (#3) so the conversation continues! C'mon over to Twitter and join in.