May 26, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

SLJ’s April 2017 Popular Picks

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In celebration of School Library Month, here are April’s Popular Picks, guaranteed to fly off of your shelves! This month’s list includes a story about a feminist baby, a Guide to Monster Hunting perfect for babysitters, and a YA collection of stories about teen life from BuzzFeed senior writer Erin Chack.


Berkner, Laurie. We Are the Dinosaurs. illus. by Ben Clanton. 40p. S. & S. Mar. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481464635. POP

PreS-Gr 1 –The marching rhythm of Berkner’s hit tune comes through in this playful picture book adaptation. The simple, repetitive lyrics (“We are the dinosaurs,/marching, marching. We are the dinosaurs—/whaddaya think of that?”) are transformed through brilliant illustrations by Clanton into a story about a troop of young dinosaurs going on an explorative adventure. While some of the lyrics don’t quite match up with the illustrations (the visuals depict the dinos napping in a volcanic cave, not in a nest), the plot contains enough of an arc that it makes sense as a whole. The mixed-media dinosaurs are part David Ezra Stein’s Dinosaur Kisses, part Gus, the Dinosaur Bus, with a big dose of Clanton’s bold and adorable style. He includes just the right touch of anthropomorphism and accessories to give each dinosaur and parent unique personalities without making the book over-the-top. The simple lyrics are supplemented heavily by animal asides, which can sometimes overwhelm the page. Upon first read, the excess words may present a challenge and disrupt the natural and fun rhythm of the lyrics. But once the reading flow is established, this title will be read over and over. VERDICT A catchy narrative that will stick in readers’ heads. A great purchase for most picture book collections, and a fun choice for preschool storytimes.–Clara Hendricks, Cambridge Public Library, MA

Brantz, Loryn. Feminist Baby. illus. by Loryn Brantz. 22p. Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2017. Board $12.99. ISBN 9781484778586. POP

Baby-Toddler –Adapted from Brantz’s viral comic, this charming board book will amuse budding feminists and their adults. The title character refuses to be limited by gender stereotypes. She loves pink and blue; she plays with dolls and cars. The rambunctious little one revels in her body, her love of music, and her absolute baby-ness. The rhyming text is singsong and makes for a great read-aloud. The large, expressive eyes; bold lines and font; and bright, cartoonish illustrations will delight the youngest of readers. The strong girl power message makes feminism and following your dreams accessible to toddlers. The final image, of Feminist Baby in Rosie the Riveter–inspired garb, will elicit chuckles and bring the message home. VERDICT A laugh-out-loud, smart, and much-needed addition to board book collections.–Shelley M. Diaz, School Library Journal

Davis, Jacky & David Soman. Ladybug Girl’s Day Out with Grandpa. illus. by David Soman. 40p. Dial. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780803740327. POP

PreS-Gr 1 –There is something magical about the curiosity of a preschooler. Just about everything is interesting; their minds are wide open, waiting to embrace new knowledge. In the latest installment of the popular series, Ladybug Girl embodies this insatiable curiosity. She is visiting the natural history museum with her grandfather. Ladybug Girl is excited about so many exhibits—from dinosaurs to elephants to emeralds—that she flits from one to the next, just like a ladybug. Although her grandfather tries to tell her to take her time and be still in order to learn more, Ladybug Girl isn’t able to heed his advice until she discovers the butterfly room. It is a magical moment when she slows down enough to allow a butterfly to land on her, and she whispers, “I can fly too…. I am Ladybug Girl.” The child’s vibrant personality and exuberance shine through the sweet story and the charming illustrations. Soman uses natural tones, mostly in browns and blues, to depict the exhibits in the museum, allowing Ladybug Girl, in her red costume, to be the star of every page. This book highlights the joy children feel when sharing a special day with a beloved relative, without their parents around. VERDICT A wonderful addition to the series for one-on-one and small group sharing.–Sally James, South Hillsborough Elementary School, Hillsborough, CA

Falconer, Ian. Olivia the Spy. illus. by Ian Falconer. 40p. Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Bks. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481457958. POP

PreS-Gr 2 –Olivia, the long-eared, precocious pig in striped pajamas, decides to become a spy in order to hear her mother’s many complaints about her behavior. Unfortunately, she misunderstands a half-overheard conversation and lets her imagination get the best of her, convincing herself that her parents intend to send her to prison. With a trembling lip, Olivia prepares for the worst, only to find herself at the ballet (a different sort of “institution,” it seems). Falconer’s trademark style is in full form. After more than 10 books, this spunky, spirited pig and her antics strike a familiar note with children and adults alike. The pages are deliberately spare, with explosive pops of teal, orange, red, and pink. The details are full of whimsy, especially Olivia’s brilliant and amusing camouflage strategies. Falconer returns to his unique artistic technique, adding superimposed photos of classic architecture and artwork. VERDICT Young and old fans of Olivia, as well as those new to her antics, will adore this cautionary tale about eavesdropping. Perfect for one-on-one and small group sharing.–Clara Hendricks, Cambridge Public Library, MA

Slack, Michael. Shorty & Clem. illus. by Michael Slack. 40p. HarperCollins. Apr. 2017. Tr. $17.99. ISBN 9780062421586. POP

PreS-Gr 1 –Fans of Mo Willems’s “Pigeon” books and the “Elephant and Piggie” series will appreciate this unlikely pair of friends. Shorty is a shortysaurus (a very small dinosaur), and Clem is a quail. Clem goes out one day, and Shorty finds a package addressed to his friend. He knows he shouldn’t open it but still tries to figure out what is inside. Finally, Shorty’s curiosity is too much to bear, and he opens the package. Immediately struck with guilt, he hides inside the box as Clem returns. Shorty confesses, and Clem tells him the package was actually a birthday present for him, and the pair happily enjoy the gift. Featuring speech bubbles and digital images against a white background, this story shines because of the charming personalities of the characters. VERDICT A great read-aloud or beginning read-alone and a fun addition to most collections.–Emily E. Lazio, New York Public Library


Ballarini, Joe. A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting. 352p. HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen Bks. Jun. 2017. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780062437839. POP

Gr 5-7 –This shining gem in the campy monster drama genre is a step up from R.L. Stine’s “Goosebumps.” Meet Kelly Ferguson, a struggling 12-year-old who hasn’t quite found her place in the middle school hierarchy. Then she accidentally discovers a team of monster-fighting babysitters. Their mission is to save kids from the utmost evil in the world, the Grand Guignol. This despicable, devil-like creature, who is also known as the boogeyman, preys on defenseless children left in the care of babysitters. When Kelly’s charge, Jacob, is kidnapped right under her nose, she must work with the band of super babysitters to help rescue baby Jacob from the clutches of the vile Grand Guignol. The over-the-top humorous action, snarky dialogue, and engaging characters will keep readers hooked. The other babysitters, such as Liz, who is haunted by the disappearance of a sibling, each have interesting backstories. Liz creates A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting, which the sitters refer to when faced with a new threat. Excerpts from this handy manual are sprinkled throughout the narrative, adding an interesting dimension to the storytelling and world-building. VERDICT With shades of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, this tale of a courageous heroine and her ragtag group of intrepid babysitters battling nightmare-inducing beasts makes for addictive reading. Hand this to fans of Chris Colfer, Rick Riordan, and Adam Gidwitz.–Julie Shatterly, W. A. Bess Elementary School, Gastonia, NC

Dilloway, Margaret. Xander and the Dream Thief. illus. by Choong Yoon. 336p. (Momotaro: Bk. 2). Disney-Hyperion. Apr. 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781484724880. POP

Gr 4-7 –Xander and his friends return in the second installment of this series centered on the Japanese folklore legend of the Momotaro. Xander has learned that he is the descendant of an ancient warrior, and his newfound powers are creating an extreme amount of stress in his life. To make matters more complicated, his missing mother has returned after a long absence. Xander is not sleeping, and he must deal with evil creatures, the oni, trying to harm him at every turn. His father constantly demands that he train and be prepared. Xander’s mother, whom he barely recognizes, is trying to reinsert herself into his life after many years of being away. But more than anything, his nightmares are starting to deeply frighten him. To combat this problem, Xander’s grandmother gives him a special baku charm, which is supposed to ease his dreams by taking them away. Xander soon realizes that he has turned his world upside down by using the baku foolishly. Thus begins a new adventure for Xander, who must save his family and friends. Dilloway’s research into Japanese folklore, the well-crafted characters, and the setting make this fast-paced tale perfect for fans of Rick Riordan’s “Percy Jackson” and Jennifer Nielsen’s “Mark of the Thief” series. ­VERDICT Readers will eagerly anticipate the next volume. Purchase where mythology-based adventures are popular.–William ­Anderson, Scott County Public Library, IN

Graff, Lisa. The Great Treehouse War. 288p. illus. Philomel. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9780399175008. POP

Gr 3-6 –Winnie’s mom and dad are getting divorced. They are extremely competitive, both in their careers and their parenting styles, and splitting time with Winnie is no exception. They insist that their custody agreement be divided right down the middle, with each parent getting the exact same amount of time. Winnie will spend three days at her dad’s house and three days at her mom’s. That leaves Wednesdays, and since Winnie’s parents can’t split their daughter in half, they decide to build an amazing tree house between their properties. On Wednesdays, Winnie will live there alone. As her parents’ competitiveness ramps up, Winnie finds that her Wednesdays are sacred. They’re her only break from the custody craziness. When her time there is threatened, Winnie goes on the offensive and stages a tree house standoff. She’s not coming out until her parents see her way of thinking, and nine of her closest friends join her with demands of their own. It’s kids vs. parents in epic fashion, and Graff’s not-quite-fantasy world is every kid’s dream. All of the frustrations young people feel with their parents during a divorce are hilariously hyperbolized in a way that will make children feel vindicated and less alone. The epistolary format allows readers to get to know all of the characters through creative footnotes, sticky notes, newspaper articles, emails, and tiny drawings. VERDICT Graff’s whimsical, original work is a breath of fresh air. A strong addition to any middle grade collection.–Mandy Laferriere, Fowler Middle School, Frisco, TX

Kowitt, Holly. The Principal’s Underwear Is Missing. illus. by Holly Kowitt. 224p. ebook available. Feiwel & Friends. May 2017. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781250091321. POP

Gr 4-6 –Becca’s not in the popular crowd. She has friends, but they’re nothing like Sloan “Selfie” St. Clair, the “it” girl at school who walks around with fancy coffee, uses pink-feather pens, and looks down her nose at kids who don’t wear designer clothes from head to toe. After Becca accidentally hurts Selfie and approaches her to apologize, the two are suddenly thrust into what for Becca is a scary ordeal and what might be Selfie’s last straw with the principal: they must take action before the woman’s very large bra is sent up the school flagpole by a prankster. In this amusing read with its Wimpy Kid–like line drawings, kids will learn that it’s OK to associate with someone who’s different—you might even have fun. VERDICT Kowitt’s well-written title gets school social dynamics right and will be appreciated by readers who enjoy mean girl stories, the “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and “Dork Diaries” series, and other school survival tales.–Henrietta Verma, National Information Standards Organization, Baltimore

Roche, Art. The Knights of Boo’Gar. illus. by Art Roche. 176p. Andrews McMeel. Apr. 2017. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781449479879. POP

Gr 3-5 –Princess Phlema’s pet goat Babycakes has been kidnapped from Castle Boo’Gar, and the ransom note demands the kingdom’s sacred Book of Loogey in exchange for the goat’s safe return. King Mewkus summons the Knights of Boo’Gar to track down the kidnappers, but the Knights have been on furlough for so long that only one person responds to the call: a 13-year-old boy named Rowland. Undaunted by the lack of reinforcements, Rowland agrees to take on the quest, enlisting the help of his pet turtle and his trusty steed, who happens to be an ostrich. While Rowland treks through the Dark Woods, encountering dangerous obstacles and fearsome creatures, Princess Phlema takes matters into her own hands. Readers will find themselves giggling at the irreverent absurdity of the action-packed scenes and the characters’ goofy exclamations. This wild romp of a story is peppered with colorful cartoon drawings and not-so-subtle references to sinus-related bodily fluids. Back matter includes facts about real medieval devices. VERDICT Give this to fans of “Captain Underpants” and gross-out, slapstick humor.–Sarah Reid, Four County Library System, NY


Clawson, David. My Fairy Godmother Is a Drag Queen. 336p. Sky Pony. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781510714113. POP

Gr 9 Up –Chris is a high school senior caught in a Cinderella-like role at home and afraid to reveal his sexual orientation there or anywhere else. He narrates the story of the winter when he found love, self-respect, his stepsiblings’ esteem, and a true friend in fashionista drag queen Duane/Coco Chanel Jones. Clawson deftly walks a thin line between realism and wish fulfillment, and readers will happily suspend disbelief. Chris is complex, admirable, and wholly likable, while the equally sharp and more acid-tongued Duane/Coco leavens the plot with enough humor and meddling to keep Chris buoyed up even when the rich, politically poised guy of Chris’s dreams—who also happens to be the designated escort of his vapid stepsister—seems to choose the closet over true love and honesty. In this endearingly reconceived version of the fairy tale, the stepmother isn’t cruel but rather a thoughtless drunk, the shoe is thrown more often than simply lost, and the fairy godmother spends more time helping stepfamily members apply makeup than dolling up Chris himself. In short, it’s a spot-on modern version for contemporary teens, with an artful balance of serious insights about being true to oneself and riffs on pop culture. ­VERDICT A fun, lighthearted YA retelling that’s an especially strong choice for collections in need of LGBTQ romances.–Francisca Goldsmith, Worcester, MA

Cohn, Rachel. Kill All Happies. 288p. Disney-Hyperion. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781423157229. POP

Gr 10 Up –Victoria Navarro is determined to throw one last bash for the senior class, especially if it means getting some action from the hottest guy in town. It’s time to say goodbye to high school and ­Happies, the local landmark restaurant. The party will be epic as long as Vic can keep her nemesis, teacher, and town councilwoman, Miss Ann Thrope from finding out. She didn’t expect busloads and biker gangs of nostalgic Happies fans to show up and force their way into the adjoining theme park. Either way, it’s going to be a night to remember. This 21st-century update on classic teen movie high jinks is a fun read featuring a diverse cast of characters and a lot of heart. Cohn perfectly captures the variable maturity of high school seniors in Vic’s voice, referencing sex and drug use and sprinkling in plenty of realistic profanity. VERDICT A relatable and entertaining story, recommended for public and high school libraries.–­Elizabeth Saxton, Tiffin, OH

Oakes, Cory Putnam. Witchtown. 320p. HMH. Jul. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780544765573. POP

Gr 7 Up –To Macie, witches do not mean spells and wands. Witches mean money. Macie and her mom, Aubra, make their living fleecing Havens, government-created communities where witches are allowed to practice and maintain their culture. However, 16-year-old Macie is starting to experience moral doubts about their lifestyle, and when the pair arrive at Witchtown, Aubra assures Macie this will be their final con. As Aubra integrates herself into the town, Macie makes friends with the teenage witches and hesitantly begins a relationship with cute boy Kellen, all the while attempting to conceal that she is a Void, an individual with no magical ability. The story is an appealing combination of the paranormal and romance genres, sure to please older “Harry Potter” fans. However, plot inconsistencies detract from the book. The dramatic impact of the reveal of Kellen’s true identity is lessened, as this subplot is only marginally developed. Additionally, Oakes never satisfactorily explains why Voids are such loathsome individuals who are branded and exiled. But overall, this is a creative approach to the witch and wizard genre, and teens will most likely not be deterred by these issues. VERDICT An engaging tale with enjoyable characters. Give to romance fans or those who like their witch books on the lighter side.–Nancy Nadig, Penn Manor School District, Lancaster, PA

Patterson, James & Gabrielle Charbonnet. Crazy House. 368p. Little, Brown/Jimmy Patterson. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780316431316. POP

Gr 8 Up –This first installment in a new dystopian thriller series centers on twin sisters living on their own in a highly regulated farming community. Trying to make it through high school so that they can start their vocations and keep off the radar of the watchful and authoritarian ruling body The United, Cassie and Becca have never been outside their little town, known as a cell. When rebellious Becca goes missing, the narrative splits into two—Becca’s harrowing tale of the mysterious and violent prison she is being held in, and Cassie’s determined attempts to rescue her. Neither of the sisters’ voices rings true, and the farming metaphors both of them use feel clunky and heavy-handed. The book features Patterson’s trademark short chapters, violence, teens breaking in and out of prison, and rapidly shifting alliances, but the lengthy stretches of awkward plotting dilute the suspense. The action does get going in the last few chapters, and a welcome reveal sets the story in a promising direction for future volumes. VERDICT This title will be in high demand among fans of suspense/thrillers, and things will hopefully pick up steam as the series progresses.–Beth McIntyre, Madison Public Library, WI

Plum, Amy. Dreamfall. 288p. HarperCollins/HarperTeen. May 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780062429872. POP

Gr 7 Up –Cata, Fergus, and five other teens are test subjects in a sleep disorder treatment study. Fears or traumas have resulted in various sleep disorders, such as nightmares, night terrors, sleepwalking, and insomnia. This treatment promises the teens a cure and finally a good night’s sleep. But after the test begins, a small earthquake causes equipment to malfunction, and the test goes horribly wrong. Instead of peacefully waking from the treatment, the test subjects are comatose, but in their heads, they are trapped in a communal nightmare, much more terrifying than anything each has experienced individually. The teens must navigate their way through the dream world without being killed by the monsters they face—among them zombie monks, soldiers, and sinister clowns—while Jaime, a medical student observer, tries to tell the disbelieving doctors what’s really happening. Reminiscent of Neal Shusterman’s Full Tilt, this novel is a fast-paced nightmare come to life, told in alternating points of view. It seems everyone, from the test subject teens to the doctors, has something to hide. Plum develops the characters just enough to keep readers guessing about their motivations. VERDICT A definite purchase for libraries serving younger sci-fi and horror fans, who will be eagerly waiting for the sequel.–Jillian ­Woychowski, West Haven High School, CT

Pon, Cindy. Want. 336p. S. & S./Simon Pulse. Jun. 2017. Tr $18.99. ISBN 9781481489225. POP

Gr 9 Up –Jason Zhou and his friends are determined to change the world for the better. They live in an alternate future in smog-filled Taipei, where prolonged exposure to pollution can be fatal. The Jin Corporation holds a monopoly on manufacturing suits to protect citizens from the toxic air. Yet a rigid class structure divides those who can afford suits (yous) from those who cannot (meis). When it becomes clear to Jason and his friends that Jin, the CEO of Jin Corp, is driving profits by intentionally harming the environment and infecting citizens with a powerful strain of the flu, they decide to infiltrate and destroy the corporation. The success of this plan depends on Jason, who intends to pose as a you and gain intel by befriending Jin’s daughter. However, his developing feelings for Daiyu threaten to thwart the scheme. This fully realized futuristic city is complete with descriptions of airpeds, bots, and colorful nightlife. While the technological advancements are alluring, Pon reminds readers of the devastating effects of pollution by depicting the dull and damaged landscape of Taiwan. The plot moves along at a fast pace. There is plenty of romance to appeal to wistful readers, but this won’t deter fans who prefer action. A supporting cast of diverse and intelligent characters with relationships rooted in loyalty round out the book. VERDICT A strong sci-fi novel that will entice an array of readers. A solid addition to any library.–Amy Reddy, Lewiston High School, ME

Terrill, Cristin. Here Lies Daniel Tate. 400p. S. & S. Jun. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781481480765. POP

Gr 9 Up –Readers are first introduced to a young man as he is trying to escape Canada under the identity of a missing California teen, Daniel Tate. The fake Daniel goes from eking out an existence as a con artist to being thrown into the drama of an affluent family who lost their son six years prior. He has to live in a gated community with his new family, who have many secrets of their own. Teens will be on the edge of their seats as the narrator and the FBI try to figure out what happened to the real, missing Daniel. Who hurt him? Could it be his father, who is in jail? His alcoholic mother? One of his overbearing half siblings? His curious brother? The protagonist must decide if living the life of a dead teen is worth keeping all of the Tates’ dark secrets. This book is full of suspense and drama. Fans of thrillers and mysteries will love reading this title, which is told through the perspective of an unreliable narrator who battles with himself throughout. Terrill’s writing is crisp and visceral. Though the protagonist is a con man, readers will still empathize with him because all he wants is to have a family. This fresh crossover work will resonate with teens and adults alike. VERDICT A unique suspense novel with twists and turns that will keep readers guessing. A must-have for all library collections.–Maeve Dodds, Charlotte Mecklenburg Library, NC


Chack, Erin. This Is Really Happening. 240p. ebook available. Penguin/Razorbill. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9780448493589. POP

Gr 9 Up –Chack, a senior writer at BuzzFeed, pens a smart, fast-paced exploration of her later teen years in this collection of short personal stories. From first periods and loves to college and a cancer diagnosis at age 19, Chack chronicles her experiences with wit and honesty, presenting an unromanticized look at her illness and her own mortality. However, it is her passion for her work that shines through: “Don’t Read the Comments” is a highlight for its succinct account of daily life at BuzzFeed, from compiling wacky spaghetti-themed lists to dealing with the unending line of trolls in her inbox. Chack’s job is interesting, and, more important, so is she. Readers will laugh, cheer, and internally groan at relatable awkward moments as the author invokes nostalgia and excitement for young adulthood. ­VERDICT Full of crossover YA/adult appeal, this is for fans of intelligent, sassy writers and books such as Sarah Andersen’s Adulthood Is a Myth, Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, or Maya Van Wagenen’s Popular: Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek.–Jessica Bratt, Grand Rapids Public Library, MI

Eszterhas, Suzi. Moto and Me: My Year as a Wildcat’s Foster Mom. photos by Suzi Eszterhas. 40p. maps. Owlkids. Apr. 2017. Tr $17.95. ISBN 9781771472425. POP

Gr 1-3 –Wildlife photographer Eszterhas recounts her experience fostering an orphaned serval kitten named Moto, the Swahili word for fire, at the Maasai Mara National Reserve in Kenya. Eszterhas gently explains how Moto came to be separated from his mother and siblings (pesky tourists!) before chronicling her yearlong relationship with the creature. Anecdotes about feeding, grooming, and eventually teaching Moto how to hunt and survive in the wild are accompanied by stunning photos. Moto’s curious and playful nature shines as he matures from an impossibly cute tiny kitten to a full-grown serval, climbing trees and stalking prey. The intimacy of the images is well suited to the personal story and will attract readers. Eszterhas emphasizes the great responsibility of returning Moto to the wild and the importance of his developing independence. The text also briefly describes the purpose of the Maasai Mara National Reserve, with an accompanying map of its location in Kenya, while the endnotes provide supplemental information about servals. VERDICT A tender and heartwarming account that’s certain to delight children, especially animal lovers.–Kelly Topita, Anne Arundel County Public Library, MD