Harriet the Invincible 

A fun retelling of Sleeping Beauty where the princess doesn’t sit around waiting for the curse to happen to her, but instead goes out and kicks some butt! Oh, and she’s a hamster…

Hybrid novel/graphic novel, fiction, fantasy
Interest level: grades 2-4; Reading level: 4.9
2017-2018 YHBA Intermediate nominee
4 out of 5 stars

Harriet Hamsterbone is a spirited hamster princess who decides that she isn’t going to sit around and wait for a hamster wheel to appear on her twelfth birthday so she can prick her finger, fall into a deep sleep, and then have some prince come to her rescue. Quite frankly, she’s a little skeptical that princes are capable of being heros, and she reasons that “the curse needs me alive until I’m twelve, or it can’t operate! I’m invincible!”

So Harriet sets out on her faithful riding quail, Mumfrey and spends the “next two years cliff-diving, dragon-slaying, and jousting on the professional circuit.” Harriet turns the usual fairytale hero/damsel in distress stereotype on its head. She empowers herself and determines that she won’t let anyone dictate how princesses should act.
Ursula Vernon injects a ton of humor into Harriet’s story. The format of the book contains paragraphs of text interspersed with graphic novel style panels. The illustrations are single color in the style of Dragonbreath (also by Vernon), Babymouse, and Lunch Lady. All these features combine to make a book that is perfect for readers who may not want to read traditional, text-only novels.

Harriet the Invincible
by Ursula Vernon
Scholastic, 2015
ISBN 978-0-545-91343-0

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King finds Jack, Lilly, and Maddy in a fantastical world with giants and goblins in this retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk.

Graphic novel, fiction, fantasy, adventure
Interest Level: 5-8; Reading Level: 2.8
5 out of 5 stars

This sequel to Mighty Jack picks up right where the story ended — Jack’s sister Maddy has been carried away by a strange creature and Jack and Lilly have set out to rescue her. Hatke has indeed created a very fantastical world that features giant beanstalks holding up castles and sprouting sewer pipes. We learn that this place is a crossroad between worlds, but this once green and thriving world is falling into disrepair.
Lilly and Jack get separated and encounter goblins, giants, and mutant rat-like creatures as they fight to rescue Maddy and return home. While Jack might seem like the main character, Hatke lets Lilly shine on her own and display her own strength and cunning. This is not a story where the female character is left waiting for the male to save her!
Hatke’s style of illustration really keeps the focus on the characters. While the creatures and world of plants is very detailed, the background is mostly plain and monochrome so that the reader isn’t overwhelmed.

Snappy dialog and bits of humor make this a really fun story to read. There are also unexpected details like a Magic 8 Ball and a Shelby Mustang that somehow work in this strange alternate world.
While this book cleanly wraps up the story of Jack, Lilly and Maddy, be prepared for a fun and exciting twist at the end. Hatke sure knows how to keep readers coming back for more!

Mighty Jack and the Goblin King
by Ben Hatke
First Second, 2017
ISBN 978-1-62672-267-5

Not Quite Narwhal

The adorable illustrations tell the sweet story of Kelp, who is not quite a narwhal, and how he is able to make his place in the world.

Picture book, fiction
Interest level: Pre-K through grade 3; Reading level: 3.0
4 out of 5 stars

In the picture book world, narwhals and unicorns are hot subjects, so Jessie Sima has hit payday with her adorable main character who straddles the narwhal/unicorn genre.

The first thing I noticed and loved about Not Quite Narwhal are the absolutely adorable illustrations. We meet Kelp as a baby nestled in a clam shell, wearing a protective helmet so he can breath underwater. There is even a hole in the helmet that allows his horn to stick through.
Young readers will easily recognize Kelp as a unicorn, so they will find it very funny when the author states, “He knew early on that he was different from the other narwhals.” Even though Kelp’s differences could have made him feel alone, his narwhal family and friends certainly didn’t mind and he was very happy.
But what happens when he is swept close to land and spies “a mysterious, sparkling creature” that looks like him? There is a cute sequence where Kelp learns how to walk on land and eventually meets up with the creatures that look like him — land narwhals!

Kelp recognizes that he actually is a unicorn and then struggles with figuring out where he truly belongs. Sima has provided the perfect ending where Kelp is able to create his perfect place in the world.

This would make a wonderful read-aloud for young children. There is a limited amount of text on each page, great pacing to the story, and absolutely adorable illustrations. Children will find the book both funny and heart-warming.

Not Quite Narwhal
by Jessie Sima
Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, 2017
ISBN 978-1-4814-6909-8

Gone Camping

This should be a must-have book for anyone who teaches poetry writing at the elementary or middle school level.

Novel in verse, fiction, poetry
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 2.5
5 out of 5 stars

Sam and Lucy, the siblings we originally met in Tamera Wissinger’s first book, Gone Fishing are looking forward to a family camping trip. Dad wakes up with a horrible cold and needs Mom to take care of him, so Grandpa gamely steps up and takes Sam and Lucy.
Wissinger narrates Sam and Lucy’s story using short poems. Some poems are told from Sam’s point of view and others are from Lucy. Each poem fits on a page or two and identifies whose voice is featured at the top. Gone Camping is more Lucy’s story, while previously Gone Fishing was Sam’s story.
All is good during the day, but Lucy worries about the creatures and critters who might visit their tent once the sun goes down. Lucy’s anxiety is deftly told by poems titled “The Walls of our Tent” and “Sleeping Bag Charm,” where through a charm poem, Lucy tries to ensure her sleeping bag will be a safe haven.
Wissinger’s deft poetry is accompanied by the charming illustrations of Matthew Cordell. His pen and ink illustrations are whimsical and fun and match the tone of the poems perfectly. I especially love how Cordell indicates the sun has set by shading the background of the night poems in gray. When the page turns white again, we know that Lucy has made it through the night.

Both Gone Fishing and Gone Camping are excellent stories that are told in verse. These books would both make excellent mentor texts for poetry units. The short poems are accessible to young writers and illustrate some of the many styles that poems can appear in. Wissinger also includes information about various poetry techniques in the back.

Gone Camping: a novel in verse
by Tamera Will Wissinger; illustrated by Matthew Cordell
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017
ISBN 978-0-544-63873-0

The Teacher’s Pet

Everyone could see that the class pet was trouble. Everyone but the teacher, that is! Hilarity ensues as readers root for the children to save their classroom!

Picture book, fiction, humorous
Interest Level: K-3; Reading Level: 1.8
4 out of 5 stars

Mr. Stricter is very excited by his classes’ science project! He’s has always wanted a pet, so when the class tadpoles are big enough to be released into the wild, the class gets to pick one to keep in the classroom.

They choose Bruno.
Zachariah OHora’s illustrations let observant readers in on the fact that Bruno may be a little more than Mr. Stricter expects. What is especially fun is the children’s scared and horrified faces versus the happy smiles of Mr. Stricter. Children will love this book as a read-aloud because they will delight in noticing that the illustrations do not necessarily match what the text is saying.

The children work together to solve the problem of Bruno. This is a great lesson that can be pointed out to children. Not all problems can, or should be, solved by adults.

Surely Mr. Stricter has learned his lesson and the next science project focusing on butterflies will go better…

This book is a fun and interesting story that will delight young readers. It will make an excellent read-aloud in a library or classroom. Don’t forget to check out the endpapers and note the very important difference.

The Teacher’s Pet
by Anica Mrose Rissi; illustrated by Zachariah OHora
Disney-HYPERION, 2017
ISBN 978-1-48474-364-5

The Best Man

Richard Peck is a master storyteller who delivers laughs, tears, and a full cast of well-developed characters who can all teach us about becoming the best people we can be.

Chapter book, fiction
Interest Level: 4-7; Reading Level: 4.1
Boston Globe Horn Book Honor Winner 2017: Fiction & Poetry
5 out of 5 stars

Richard Peck is truly an amazing creator of stories. His characters are well-developed and he doesn’t require huge actions or majestic scenarios to create a storyline that compels you to keep reading. The Best Man is the story of Archer Magill. Most of the story takes place during his 5th and 6th-grade years at school, where we see Archer start to really notice the world around him.

Archer has three very important men in his life — his grandfather, father, and Uncle Paul. Each of these men, in different ways, contributes to Archer’s understanding of life and development of who he is as a person. Most of the story takes place in school, but school and home life intersect throughout the story.

I love the tone of Richard Peck’s writing. I imagine in real life that he has a very sarcastic sense of humor and his dry wit makes for many laugh out loud moments in this story. Like life though, the laughter is balanced by moments of insight as well as sadness. One of the best ways to describe it is to say this book feels very real.

Archer confronts bullying and homophobia during the story. Peck has his main character navigate these harmful scenes with openness and an insightful manner that encourages readers to not slap labels or definitions on people, but to celebrate everyone’s right to happiness and acceptance.

At 232 pages, the book is a nice length for a full-class read-aloud, and the humor and cast or characters will engage students. I highly recommend this book for the wonderful story, strength of characters, humor, inclusion of diversity, and willingness to address homosexuality.

The Best Man
by Richard Peck
Dial Books for Young Readers, 2016

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes

Todd Parr is an author who combines fun illustrations with heart-warming messages that affirm the strength and goodness in every person.

Picture book, fiction
Interest Level: Pre-K through 2nd grade; Reading Level: 2.1
4 out of 5 stars

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes lets readers know that everybody makes mistakes and that mistakes can lead to good things, such as discovering something new, or something that might be seen as a mistake could really just be a different way of doing something.

The overall message is that “Everyone has ‘uh-oh’ moments. That’s how you learn!”
Parr’s illustrations are bright and whimsical and appeal to a wide variety of young readers. I find that students with special needs are often fans of Todd Parr because of the engaging illustrations and the accessible message that he shares.

Adults need to realize that children are often afraid to make a mistake. Whether it’s because they don’t want to appear silly in front of peers or sometimes they just fear not doing something “correct,” children need to learn that mistakes can be good, especially if we learn from them or create something new. This book would make a good intro to a maker space activity in a school library and could lead into a discussion of the engineering design process, where mistakes lead to rethinking and modification, not failure.

It’s Okay to Make Mistakes
by Todd Parr
Little, Brown and Company, 2014