November 21, 2017

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Gaiman’s ‘Fortunately, the Milk’ and Other Fun Fiction | JLG’s On the Radar

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New baby sisters, substitute teachers, and friends (even if it’s a bowling ball) are frequent themes in short novels for young readers. Favorite authors such as Karen English and Andrea Cheng deliver new titles in popular series, while Neil Gaiman and Mal Peet (who usually write for older readers) provide humor and thought-provoking storytelling for kids who are getting comfortable reading on their own. The following titles selected by the editors of Junior Library Guild are just the ticket.

Year of the BabyCHENG, Andrea. The Year of the Baby. illus. by Patrice Barton. Houghton Harcourt. 2013. ISBN 9780547910673. JLG Level: A+ : Intermediate Readers (Grades 3–5).

Anna is the only one who can calm her new baby sister when they go to her frequent doctor trips. Kaylee, who was adopted from China, is not gaining weight, and everyone is worried. At school, Anna has trouble deciding on a topic for her science project. When she and her friends discover that Kaylee eats better when she’s distracted by their singing, they wonder if an experiment could win the science fair and help the baby gain weight. Should the songs be in English or Chinese? Does the type of food matter? Cheng follows The Year of the Book (2012) with a charming sequel that asks as many questions as it answers.

Substitute TroubleENGLISH, Karen. Substitute Trouble. illus. Laura Freeman. Clarion.2013. ISBN 9780547615653. JLG Level: CE : City Elementary (Grades 2–6).

Nikki and Deja don’t like their new substitute teacher. He doesn’t follow Ms. Shelby-Ortiz’s rules. He doesn’t follow the plan. He has no control over the class. Writing an anonymous letter to Mr. Willow with some tips about how to handle the misbehavior in their class seems like a good idea. In a misunderstanding, Deja is blamed for a disrespectful action, and she’s sent to the principal’s office. Her explanation and the letter brings consequences that she never expected. Following the rules gets hard, even for Deja and Nikki. New readers will identify with the class, but hope they never have substitute trouble like the girls do.

Fortunately the MilkGAIMAN, Neil. Fortunately, the Milk. illus. by Skottie Young. HarperCollins. Sept. 2013. ISBN9780062224071. JLG Level:  I : Independent Readers (Grades 2–4).

“Where have you been all this time?” asked my sister. “Ah,” said my father. “Um. Yes. Well, funny you should ask me that…I bought the milk…and then something odd happened,” he said. Father proceeds to tell a marvelously inventive story about pirates, piranhas, dinosaurs, volcanoes, and Floaty-Ball-Person-Carriers. Everyone has told a tale that sounds unbelievable, but Gaiman’s new work is a tribute to the art of storytelling. Even the most cynical reader will relax into a far-fetched account of why it took so long to bring home the milk.

Bowling Alley BanditKELLER, Laurie. Bowling Alley Bandit. illus. by author. Holt/Christy Ottaviano. 2013. ISBN 9780805090765. JLG Level: HE : Humor Elementary (grades 2–6).

From his picture book debut in Arnie the Doughnut (2003), Arnie returns in a short novel for independent readers. From breakfast to doughnut-dog, Arnie’s life is never the same. Mr. Bing takes him every week to the bowling alley where he is quite popular. During a tournament, Mr. Bing stops using his regular house ball, Bruiser, for his own personal ball, Betsy. It’s a special night, so Arnie arranges for a bowling karaoke version of “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” It’s a hit, but something goes wrong with Mr. Bing’s ball. He never throws a gutterball. It’s up to Arnie to investigate the trail of pink sprinkles and get to the bottom of the mystery. Keller’s amusing cartoonlike illustrations keep the action moving and the laughter flowing.

Mysterious TravelerPEET, Mal and Elspeth Graham. Mysterious Traveler. Candlewick. Oct. 2013. illus. by P.J. Lynch. ISBN 9780763662325. JLG Level: I : Independent Readers (Grades 2–4).

Desert guide Issa finds a baby after a terrible sandstorm takes the lives of everyone but the camel that was transporting her. He raises the girl as his grandchild and teaches Mariama everything he knows. She learns to read the desert for signs of weather and danger. When Issa goes blind, she becomes his eyes. A rich young man comes to Issa for help crossing the wide desert. He refuses the aid of a blind man, preferring to use a magic stone as a guide. Issa learns the party goes to the Bitter Mountains alone, he takes Mariama to search for them. Will they find them before they become lost? Can a blind man save them? Lynch’s gorgeous watercolors illustrate the fable of a Timbuktu guide who blindly let travelers across the vast deserts.

For audio/video versions of these booktalks, please visit JLG’s Shelf Life Blog.

Junior Library Guild is a collection development service that helps school and public libraries acquire the best new children’s and young adult books. Season after season, year after year, Junior Library Guild book selections go on to win awards, collect starred or favorable reviews, and earn industry honors. Visit us at

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Deborah B. Ford About Deborah B. Ford

Deborah is the Director of Library Outreach for Junior Library Guild. She is an award-winning teacher librarian with almost 30 years of experience as a classroom teacher and librarian in K–12 schools.

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  1. Helen Foster James says:

    Hi, Deborah! Great list. Thanks for sharing!