Thursday, November 24, 2016

Brainstorm 94: Scifi for Everyone (Part 3)

Scifi for Everyone : Part 3: Young Adult & Adult Scifi

The promised final installment of science fiction books for everyone (not just nerds!). This week features young adult and adult scifi. To try and limit this list, I’m not including books I’d consider classics or modern classics. I personally really enjoy many of Jules Verne’s books, C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy, Crichton’s Andromeda Strain, Heinlein’s Starship Troopers, and the ineffable (mostly because you’re laughing too hard) Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Adams. I’m also avoiding dystopia to help keep this list manageable. And I’ll only include target readers in the interest of space. Click on the titles for more info on each book. So without further ado, here’s some of my more recent scifi favorites for young adults and adults.

Young Adult Fiction

Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis
Once upon a time there was a teenage girl named Essie. She lived on the outskirts of a village on the mining planet of Thanda. Essie makes her way by stitching tech, and fighting in the ring to make some extra dough every once in a while. She has made seven drones who help make the mining in her village much more efficient. They also provide company to her. Essie's life is comfortable, and she's holding her own. But when a stranger crashes near the village and Essie decides to help him get his ship back together, her carefully built walls are threatened. Dane is looking for a treasure. A treasure that will help end the war on Windsong that started when Princess Snow was kidnapped. Essie can't wait to get Dane on the road, because he is bringing up memories she had carefully buried and his presence is threatening to make her dissatisfied with the life she has built on Thanda. ...and to find out more you just have to read the book.

What I liked: It’s a smart scifi retelling of Snow White, but Lewis made the story all her own. It was a geeky girl's perfect fairy tale retelling. There's space travel and thrilling action, and just the right touch of romance. This is one I'll have to reread. And I loved finding out that the author is a high school math teacher. Who said the math/science people can't write too?! (And those daily interactions with teens in the classroom means she knows her audience well.)

Target Readers: 

  • Those who like fairy tale retellings, smart scifi fans, action fans, and those who prefer stand alone novels.

Spinning Starlight by R.C. Lewis
Welcome to Sampati. One of the seven planets that form the Seven Points. The planets all work together to form a society. Transport between them used to rely on things called portals which were temperamental and painful. Thanks to the brilliant Jantzen family, though, conduits are now used to travel between planets. They are less painful and more reliable. Only the Jantzen brothers recently noticed that the conduits were starting to destabilize and quietly began researching a way to fix them. This didn't much concern Liddi Jantzen, their younger sister, until a bunch of armed guys arrived at the family estate. She evaded the strange men and made her way to town only to find out the men were henchmen for Ms. Minali, who currently runs JTI, the Jantzen tech company Liddi is set to inherit once she comes of age. Ms Minali has decided she knows how to fix the conduits, and it requires a biological to be inside. She's trapped all eight of Liddi's brothers in the conduits in her mental instability and is determined she can fix things in the next month or so. Liddi is obviously in the way, so Minali installs a mechanism in her voicebox making the smallest squeak from Liddi set off an explosion that will kill her brothers. With her brothers trapped and parents dead, Liddi has no one else on the planet she can trust. Sure she has loads of "friends" as one of the richest and most followed celebrities on the planet, but Liddi is not blind to why these people hang around her. The Jantzen brothers discover that in moonlight they can appear to Liddi. They help her escape from Sampati via a portal. Liddi expects to find herself on one of the other Seven Points when she recovers from her uncomfortable journey, but it is a planet she doesn't recognize. To further complicate things, Sampati no longer has a written language, so between her inability to talk and unfamiliarity with writing or reading, it is going to be really hard for Liddi to find ways to convey what is going on and figure out how to help save her brothers.

What I liked: The cover of this book gives a big clue as to the original fairy tale it is based on, "The Wild Swans." As in Stitching Snow Lewis has cleverly incorporated some of the key points of the tale in her own unique way to make this story all her own. I really did like the scifi elements Lewis created and the technological/scifi world she imagined. The portals and conduits stuff especially was imaginative and fascinating.

Target Readers: 

  • Those who like fairy tale retellings, smart scifi, and stand alone novels. 

Railhead by Philip Reeve
Zen Sterling just loves riding the trains of the Network. Such people are called railheads in the empire. The empire is made up of a Network of stations on different planets and moons linked together by K-gates allowing speedy travel across lightyears. Zen is a small-time thief trying to help his sister and delusional ma until the day he is recruited by a strange man named Raven. Raven hires him to get on the Noon's train, the imperial family train, and steal a small object from the art collection. After a little training, Zen is put on the train impersonating one of the lesser nephews in the Noon family with a Motorik named Nova to help. And Zen has no clue as to how this mission will change not only his life, but the lives of everyone in the empire.

What I liked: Reeve has created a fascinating world in the far distant future (so much so that Old Earth is cryptic and somewhat one point Klingon is mentioned as one of the main Old Earth languages). The whole rail system is fascinating, the sentient tech (the trains and many of the robots have their own personalities and feelings), the imaginary worlds, the Guardians who set up the system and still rule through programs in the datasea that can take on physical manifestations. It's a great job of world building, and I am quite curious to see what will happen in the next book as some of the secrets of the origins of the rail line will be further explored.

Target Readers: 

  • Those who like stories of heists, those who like far future scifi, and those who like spectacular world building.

A Long, Long Sleep by Anna Sheehan
Rose Fitzroy wakes up from stasis to find that it is 62 years in the future. Her stasis tube was found completely by accident, she evidently missed a horrible time period filled with plague and catastrophe, and everyone she knew and loved is now dead. That doesn’t change the fact that she’s still the heir to UniCorp, her father’s company that is still pretty much running the known universe. Since she’s technically only aged 16 years, she isn’t quite up to inheritance age though, so UniCorp quickly scrambles to find her some guardians and arranges for her to go back to school. Rose has quite the uphill climb ahead. First there’s her body trying to recover from stasis. Then there’s the mental assault of dealing with your parents and your boyfriend now being dead. Add to that the challenge of trying to fit in at a high school with teens using tech and slang decades distant from what you last experienced, and yeah, it is a bit much to handle. Oh, and as if that wasn’t enough, an undead human shell with a computer brain has evidently been sent to assassinate her. This sleeping beauty is in need of some serious help or she’s not going to make it in this strange new future she’s woken up to.

What I liked: There’s a nice mystery as to why she was in stasis for so long, and why one of her friends who can read minds describes her mind as being full of gaps beyond what stasis would cause. And of course, why someone sent an undead assassin after her. Kind of like a Sleeping Beauty told Memento movie style. Once all the pieces fall together in the right order you go, 'Ohh!!!' Quite enjoyable sci-fi fairy tale.

Target Readers: 

  • Those who like fairy tale retellings, those who like time travel stories (though it isn’t technically time travel, Rose has similar issues), those who like post-dystopia settings, those looking for a lighter scifi, and those who like mysteries.

Burning Midnight by Will McIntosh
Sully's world revolves around spheres. Spheres have made his life a mess, but they are also his best hope. The spheres just appeared on Earth one day - hidden all over the place. The one that ruined Sully's life he found in a drain pipe. They fit in your hand and come in various colors. The color is very important. Because if you have two of the same color you can put them to your temples and give yourself a new power. Some make you smart, some improve your looks, some can make you faster. The less impressive the power, the more common the color. Which means that when an unheard of color is found, you know you've got yourself a gold mine. At least, that's what Sully thought when he found a cherry red. But then Alex Holliday, the up and coming king of the sphere empire in America swindled Sully out of millions. Now Sully is infamous as the kid who got ripped off by Holliday but can't do anything about it. He and his mom are barely scraping by since she lost her job. Sully knows their best chance of survival is to find a really rare sphere. So when Hunter, sphere hunter extraordinaire (and also good looking chick) walks up to his table at the flea market, Sully believes he's found the perfect partner to help him survive. Hunter wants a big find possibly even more than him, she's homeless and a big find would open the doors to a new life. But when Sully and Hunter do make a huge find, it has consequences they never could have dreamed and could spell disaster for the entire solar system.

What I liked: The interesting rewrite of the modern world, the treasure hunt, the big twist at the end and how they figured out to fix it, and the moral that greedy people are not always the happiest in the end.

Target Readers: 

  • Those who like big twists, those who like treasure hunts, those who like slight changes in the modern world, and those who like epic road trips.

Dark Energy by Robinson Wells
The aliens are here. They've landed in Minnesota. Well, they actually crash landed in Iowa and eventually came to a stop in Minnesota. So far they've yet to make a personal appearance, and everyone is wondering if they are the friendly kind or the disease carrying kind or the world dominating kind. Aly's dad works for NASA, so they are temporarily uprooted from their home in Miami, Florida to chilly Minnesota while her dad and the rest of the science world geeks out over the new visitors. Since her mom is dead and her dad will be very distracted, he enrolls her at a prestigious prep school in Minnetonka. Aly soon finds herself surrounded by trust fund babies, congressmen's kids and most likely future Nobel prize winners in biology and calculus. Thankfully, just because they're rich and/or nerdy does not mean there aren't any potential friend-material fellow students. Aly's roommates turn out to be pretty cool. Nerdy geniuses, but cool. And she almost literally runs into Kurt, a poor little rich Indian (as in from India) boy with a nice sarcastic sense of humor whose parents live on different continents and dump him in boarding schools since they're so busy. So Aly's making some friends and figuring out her new school, and then the aliens emerge from the ship and everything gets way, way more exciting for Aly and her friends...and I can't tell you anything more without ruining some of the fun.

What I liked: It's hard to talk about this too much without ruining various things. I did like the aliens and the mystery around them. This definitely satisfied the itch I get for good ol' scifi with some "Ooo, I like what the author did there with that origin story" thrown in. Oh, and excitement, and some mystery, and towards the end some rather seriously tense moments but not too tense. So good. But my favorite part about the whole book was the witty banter between Aly and her father. They're like a dad/daughter version of Gilmore Girls. Loved it. Kurt was able to banter a little bit too, which gave him instant approval if he wanted to get interested in Aly. I also liked that Wells managed to avoid some of the cliches of rich boarding school settings. He managed to convey that Aly's roommates were complete and utter brainiacs and one is a bit of a recluse, but he also managed to make them likeable and cool too. And the majority of the people Aly meets at the school fall in the cool category. There's just one guy and one girl that fall in the spoiled brat/entitled jerk category and they're very minor characters. I also appreciated the lengths Wells went to make the Navajo parts of the book Navajo-approved (Aly's mother was Navajo and she is still in touch with her grandmother), definitely read his notes on this. And there's all the issues brought up because of the aliens' arrival, ethical and philosophical things the characters have to think through that are important things to consider even if aliens aren't in your backyard. So it isn't just a fun and exciting read, it'll make you think a little about real issues if you aren't careful. And that's my favorite kind of book, fun with some hidden depth.

Target Readers: 

  • Those who like boarding school stories, those who like alien invasion stories, those who like thrillers, those who like multicultural tales, and of course, those who like some good ol’ witty banter.

Fallout (Lois Lane, #1) by Gwenda Bond
Lois Lane is starting yet another new school. This time her military General father is supposedly taking a permanent post in Metropolis and Lois needs to plan on staying for a while. Her plan is to make friends, settle in, and not make waves. No more trouble for Lois. But when the local editor of a newspaper invites her to join the staff of their high school branch, the Scoop, Lois can’t say no. And she never could have predicted that standing up for spelling bee champ Anavi in a story about the champion speller being bullied by gamers and ignored by the principal could mix her up in something way bigger and more dangerous than anyone imagined.

What I liked: I’m not a huge Superman fan, but I still enjoyed reading this. (And he’s hardly in this.) Lois is a spunky, precocious heroine to follow around. That could be annoying, but she channels her spunk and smarts to fight for those who need a hero.

Target Readers: 

  • Those who like thrillers, those who like superhero stories, those who identify with moving around a lot, those who want very minimal scifi, and those who like spunky heroines.

For the Darkness Shows the Stars (For the Darkness Shows the Stars, #1) by Diana Peterfreund
The world has barely survived a worldwide apocalypse that ravaged the earth and rendered those with genetic modifications mute and barely able to function. If it were not for the small band of Luddites who hid in caves and avoided the unnatural twiddling with genes that everyone was so keen on, there would be no one around with enough intelligence to survive. So now the known realm (which is an island) is ruled by Luddite barons. The workers are the Reduced and their descendants. Some of those descendants have started to show more intelligence and the ability to speak, much like their Luddite owners. Some of these Posts (as these people prefer to be called) are starting to desire more freedom. Elliott North is the younger daughter of the pompous Baron North. After the death of her capable mother, it has fallen to Elliott to try and keep the farm running, the Posts and Reduced workers alive and fed and the books balanced. Her elder sister has taken it upon herself to be the height of Luddite fashion and lady-likeness and her father was never good with managing things. Growing up, Elliott's best friend was a Post boy named Kai. Letters from the past that are interspersed throughout the book give us the back story of Elliott and Kai's relationship and how that became strained when Elliott chose responsibility to the farm and the Reduced and Posts in the North's care over Kai. But when a group of free Posts show up one summer to rent part of Elliott's grandfather's land to build a boat, she finds herself suddenly reunited with an older Kai full of bitterness over the past. Underneath the personal stories of Elliott vs her father and Elliott and Kai, there is Elliott's war within over the traditional Luddite beliefs about the evils of playing God with genetics in any way and her desire to develop a better wheat to help her family (and all therein) to survive. (And those who know how Persuasion ends will easily predict how the book will end, but you aren't exactly sure how all the little details of this future world will work out.)

What I liked: This is a rewrite of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. And Peterfreund managed to pull off a post-apocalyptic scifi that feels incredibly Austenish.

Target Readers: 

  • Those who like Austen rewrites, those who like Regency fiction, those who like light scifi in a futuristic world that slid backwards in tech, and those who like scifi that is low on action.

Across a Star-Swept Sea (For the Darkness Shows the Stars, #2) by Diana Peterfreund
After Earth was all but destroyed in a war, the survivors built the islands of New Pacifica, Albion and Galatea. In Galatea two generations ago, Persistence Helo developed a cure for the Reduced, so that now no one on the islands suffers from the debilitating brain disorder. Well, at least until the Revolution. On Galatea, the regs are tired of the overlording aristos and royalty, so under the leadership of Citizen Aldred they are fighting back and waging a bio-weapons war by giving captured aristos a drug that renders them Reduced. Albion so far has not joined in on the social strife. But not everyone on Albion is comfortable sitting back and watching while their island neighbors suffer. One Albian in particular has become a legendary hope for the Galateans under threat of the new reduction, the Wild Poppy, an Albian man with cunning and amazing skills for rescuing aristos right out from under the noses of the Galatean revolutionary leaders. No one knows who the Wild Poppy is, and Lady Persis Blake is doing everything she can to make sure that remains true. Who would guess that the cunning spy masquerades by day as the flippant and fluffy headed friend of the Albion Princess Regent Isla? But when one of Persis' disguises backfires and she only makes it back to Albion from a Wild Poppy venture thanks to the quick actions of a Galatean medic (who just happens to want to get out of Galatea), she has to put on the show of her life to keep Justen Helo in the dark as to her true identity. Thankfully, he fully buys her light-headed act and has nothing but disdain for the stupid Persis Blake. But things get more complicated when Justen asks Princess Isla for refuge, and to prevent war (since Justen is none other than Citizen Aldred's ward), Persis and Justen are ordered to pretend Justen is on Albion as her new boyfriend. Meanwhile, Citizen Aldred is stepping up the revolution, and is now using the reduction on anyone he thinks doesn't see his way, including regs and children. Justen had been working on a cure for the new reduction, but he hits a road block that ups the stakes for everyone in Galatea (and in the Wild Poppy's circle), and he is also battling his own demons and secrets. As if things weren't crazy enough, in the middle of the spy games and revolution, the impossible happens. New Pacifica was supposed to be the only place with survivors on the planet, but the appearance of strangers in a golden flying ship shakes everything up, and could easily end up tipping the war one way or the other.

What I liked: Peterfreund does a fantastic rewrite of The Scarlet Pimpernel. It bears enough similarity to the original, I felt it was a faithful tip of the hat, but it has enough of its own unique qualities I was kept guessing as to how exactly things were going to work out. Peterfreund has built such an interesting and captivating place (with some similarities, but many differences from Elliot's island), and the perfect setting for this tale. The ability of Persis to use genetic technology for her disguises is genius, and the way the genetic tech plays integrally into the plot is fascinating, and very well done. It takes a while to figure out how this is linked with For the Darkness Shows the Stars, but it is.

Target Readers: 

  • Fans of The Scarlet Pimpernel, those who like spy stories, those who enjoy smart scifi, and those who like thrillers with a dash of clean romance.

Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyers
This fairy tale mashup in futuristic Earth that stars a cyborg Cinderella who must figure out a way to stop the evil Lunar queen from taking over the Earth with lots of help from other fun fairy tale character rewrites. I've mentioned this series, or the first book Cinder, several times, so I won't go into more detail again.

What I liked: So well written, with plenty of action and fun fairy tale nods. This is hands down the most popular scifi series in our library right now. I love that it gets reluctant readers devouring books over 300 pages long in rapid succession.

Target Readers: 

  • Fairy tale rewrite/mashup fans, those who like thrillers, and those who like to watch heroines and a fun group of friends save the world from evil villains in a future world.

Pivot Point (Pivot Point, #1) by Kasie West
Addie's parents have dropped a huge bombshell on her; they are suddenly and inexplicably getting a divorce in the middle of her junior year of high school. Her dad is not just moving out of the house, he is moving outside of the compound and several hours away. And her parents are making her decide who she will live with, of course they fully expect her to do a Search before making this life changing decision. Addie calls for backup support - in the form of her best friend Laila - and with Laila's help decides to search 6 weeks into the future down either path to see which choice is better. Oh. Did I mention that Addie and her parents and everyone else on the Compound aren't quite normal? Everyone who lives there has some kind of mind power. Addie's dad can tell whenever anyone is lying. Addie's mom can Persuade people really well. Laila can Erase people's memories, and Addie, when faced with an either/or decision, can search and see into her own future down either path. Of course, the Compound is tippy top secret stuff, and it's a huge deal to consider living out in the real world with her Dad. From the time Addie enters the Search, the chapters alternate between each possible future. One in which she stays with her Mom, decides that if her parents are going through a divorce she should try to live true to literature and do some semi-rebellious things to get her opinion about the state of affairs across, continues to get to hang out with Laila all the time, and starts to get noticed by the star quarterback (even though he is definitely not her type). In the other possible future, she moves to Dallas with her Dad, has to adjust to living like Norms (who have decidedly less sophisticated technology) and make sure she doesn't let anything about her extra powers or the Compound slip, has to make all new friends including a cute former quarterback, and try to figure out who she is when not defined by her powers. Both futures seem equally good until close to the end of the 6 week search, when a mystery building in the Compound is going to affect Addie drastically regardless of which future she chooses. The outcomes aren't exactly the same, but neither is good and Addie's choice gets infinitely more difficult.

What I liked: I love that this book and the other book in this duology are constantly checked out. It is not an easy read. Swtiching back and forth between the different timelines takes a lot of concentration to keep straight, but Kasie West has such a huge following now readers will put in the effort required. And I think that’s saying something about her writing. She gets teens reading, even crazy complicated plot filled books!

Target Readers: 

  • Kasie West fans, those who like superhero books, and those who like books about teen relationships.

Leviathan (Leviathan, #1) by Scott Westerfeld, ill. by Keith Thompson
Leviathan is alternate historical fiction set at the beginning of WWI, but instead of the technology we know, the Germans have different mechanical machines (picture stuff in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow) and the Brits have bio-engineered creatures that compose much of their armory and transportation devices. The story is split between a girl pretending to be a boy in the British airforce, and Prince Aleksander, the son of the assassinated Austrian archduke whose death was used as an excuse to start WWI. Eventually, circumstances bring together these two young people. As might be expected, worlds collide and you'll just have to read it to find out if it works out.

What I liked: I love the imagination of this steampunk version of WWI. I also love that this appeals to such a wide group of readers in age, gender, and normal reading preference. It seems like just about everyone loves the Leviathan trilogy.

Target Readers: 

  • History has shown you can try handing this to just about anyone. Those who like adventure, those who like history with a bit of thriller, and those who like imaginary worlds especially.

Adult Fiction

Numb by John W. Otte
Crusader is the Ministrix's sword to do God's work, specially anointed for the job by his inability to feel pain or emotion. He eliminates those who deserve punishments, and hopes that his acts will earn him forgiveness from the guilt that plagues him. His latest assignment, to take out a heretic Isolde, should be routine, but Crusader has trouble following his orders. Of course, the fact that another agent gets in the way and seems to have contrary orders makes things a little difficult, the more disturbing thing is the breakdown of his numbness whenever he sees the target. During the temporary glitch in the assignment, Crusader does some digging on why another agent has appeared on what was supposedly a solo mission. What he finds, makes him put the mission on hold, long enough to interrogate Isolde and reevaluate what is really going on. Because something is definitely going on. Both the Ministrix and the opposing Praesidium seem to be very interested in this Isolde, and Crusader can't figure out exactly why nor why there now seems to be a target on his head as well.

What I liked: This was a Christian fiction that was well-written and felt like a good ol’ scifi adventure.

Target Readers: 
Those who like Christian fiction, those who like stand alone novels, and those who like classic space adventure with a touch of clean romance.

Offworld by Robin Parrish
The astronauts on board the Ares, first manned mission to Mars, return to Earth only to find it completely deserted. Or at least so it seems. There are no people or animals anywhere, and it is obvious there hasn't been anyone around for a while. Now the termination of communication with Earth two months ago seems to make sense. Command stopped talking to them because they vanished. Chris, Trisha, Terry, and Owen do all they can in Florida to try and figure out what happened. Thanks to a working satellite, they do notice a strange, extremely bright light emanating from somewhere around Houston, Texas, so they grab some vehicles and start working their way to Texas. The road there is peppered with unexpected findings and numerous hazards. And the closer they get, the more they realize that they need to get to the bottom of this.

What I liked: I felt that the mystery was well done while being balanced by character development, and just the right touches of action. It definitely kept me reading till the end.

Target Readers: 

  • Those who like mysteries and thrillers, those who like scifi that feels inspired by B scifi movies but takes a better twist, or just those looking for clean adult fiction.

Adult Graphic Novel

Mooncop by Tom Gauld
He's got the best crime fighting rate in the universe. He's also possibly the most bored cop in the universe. What if there were a colony on the moon complete with its own police force? When the colony thing starts to go bust and the people get replaced by robots or just decide to go home, how would a moon cop fill his time?

What I liked: This is simple in illustration and concept, but has subtle moments of comedy (like mooncop filling out his report) and moments of bittersweetness (coffee date). A quiet book, but with some subtle depth and it's a super quick read.

Target Readers: 
Those looking for a quick read, those who like space colony stories, those who like cop stories, and those looking for light humor.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Brainstorm 93: Scifi reads for everyone (Part 2)

Science fiction for Everyone Part 2: Middle Grade Scifi

This is a continuation of last week’s post. More great science fiction for anyone who likes imaginative reads or asking what if questions. (Not just nerds!) I was going to smash in top picks of middle grade, young adult and adult science fiction this week, and it just isn’t all going to fit. In fact, there are so many here I’m just going to give one bullet for each one, the target readers. Sorry, not sorry, this post is kind of long…I just couldn’t narrow these down any further! I even told myself no dystopia and none of the books that recently appeared in thriller for middle grades. Also, I drastically reduced my review parts so if you want more details on any books, click on that book’s title. Too many good middle grade scifi books. Which is a nice problem because scifi hit a dry spell for a while a few years ago. It’s nice to see it making a comeback. Look for part three with young adult and adult scifi next week.

Middle Grade Fiction Resources

How to Capture an Invisible Cat (Genius Factor, #1) by Paul Tobin, ill. by Thierry Lafontaine
Delphine's life is pretty normal. Ok, as normal as can be for an outgoing girl a little prone to escapades that may get her in trouble. But that all changes the day she becomes friends with the class genius, Nate. Nate gets bored being so brilliant all the time and ever Friday the 13th he schedules in to do 3 dumb things just to keep life interesting. There was a Friday the 13th recently and one of the dumb things Nate did was to enlarge his family cat Proton to the size of an elephant, turn him invisible, and hide seven molecules around town that contain clues how to change Proton back and then purposely forget the formula so he has to find the clues. Nate has his trusty talking dog Bosper to help him, and he and Bosper have decided that Delphine would make a good friend so they recruit her too. Soon Delphine finds herself doing a number of things she never dreamed of when she woke up that morning, like talking to a dog, becoming friends with a sentient car, and being stalked by a gigantic invisible cat that escapes Nate's house and goes on an invisible rampage around town. It's a good thing Delphine likes adventures.

What I liked: That the story is hilarious and imaginative, Nate is full of surprises, the scary but believable killer house cat, and lovable Bosper. And, that there’s a sequel coming out next year. I can’t wait for more laughs.

Target Readers:

  • Humor fans, mad scientist fans, crazy invention fans, and those looking for a hilarious read aloud.

Planet Thieves (Planet Thieves, #1) by Dan Krokos
Mason is in the midst of pranking his older sister when the world as he knows it starts going to pieces. Human's archenemies the Tremists (ever since they started fighting over the enticing habitable planets) show up and start attacking the ship his sister serves on as an officer and in which he and 17 other ESC cadets are along for space hours. Before Mason realizes it, the Tremists have won and are stealing a secret weapon from the hold of the Egypt. Mason is just a cadet. What can he do against a foe with superior numbers, training, and weapon power, especially when they have a brand new secret weapon at their disposal? One thing is for sure, though, if he and his fellow cadets do nothing, everyone will die.

What I liked: Mason’s growth, that it is a more serious and high octane space adventure than average for middle grade scifi, a classic-feeling plot (such that you could probably sell it to StarTrek and they could make a high selling movie of it). I just got the sequel and am looking forward to seeing what happens next.

Target Readers:

  • There’s a new kind of aliens introduced at the end that make the Tremists look like pansies. They almost push this over into the horror genre. They’re scary. That said, don't hand this one to a light scifi fan or a squeamish kid, but a middle grader ready for a little more serious scifi/thriller or kids who say they want a scary story. (Also good for adults who like classic-ish scifi and aren’t ashamed to read middle grade books.)

Starbounders (Starbounders, #1) by Adam Jay Epstein and Andrew Jacobson
Zachary Night just started at Indigo-8, a top secret Starbounders' academy, training the next wave of beings who will protect the universe. Zachary comes from a long line of famous Nights who have distinguished themselves for bravery in defending the universe from planet crushers and unfriendly races. He's got big expectations to fill. Of course, Zachary can't resist a good challenge from fellow Starbounder Kalley and roommate Ryic, even if it does mean breaking a few rules. The trio soon regrets their rule breaking though, when they get pulled off of the intergallactic field trip and put on space janitor duty scrubbing lunar mold instead. Their punishment goes just a smidgeon awry when prisoners on board hijack the ship and the kids find themselves hostages. It is soon evident that the kidnappers aren't the biggest problems though, someone is messing with Cerebella, the main computer that controls all of the Indigo bases, and has put out a hit on the three Starbounders. Who would want them dead and why? It'll take quite a trip across the universe to figure out the answer and try to save the day.

What I liked: That for the most part it's a very exciting and imaginative adventure that goes all over the universe with enough unique tech and aliens so it is its own imaginary world. The sequel is equally fun and adventurous.

Target Readers:

  • Hand this book to kids who like boarding school stories, kids who save the day, and space adventures.

Dark Life (Dark Life, #1) by Kat Falls
Thanks to an earthquake relocating most of the East Coast into the depths of the Atlantic, the oceans have risen drastically and now the most precious thing on Earth is land space. What little dry land is left is built up to the max, and people are crammed in together. Of necessity, scientists quickly developed ways to farm and pioneer the ocean floor. But relocating to the Benthic Territories is still considered strange and risky. Rumors fly around about people who live under the water developing strange abilities, Dark Gifts. It doesn't help that those who have been down there for several years, like Ty and his family, have skin that shimmers and almost seems to glow in the dark thanks to a diet with plenty of phosphorescent sea life. It also doesn't help when outlaws are rampaging the Benthic Territories and making pioneers feel unsafe. The Seablite Gang is definitely a blight on the prospects of ever making the underwater territories self-sufficient. And now the Commonwealth is saying that the pioneers have to form a posse and help round up the gang before any more supplies can be brought down. Ty is determined to help bring in the Seablite Gang and make sure his parents can stay on their claim. He has his own eye on several acres he wants to claim as soon as he turns 18, so he'll do anything he can to make sure they don't have to relocate Topside. Gemma is a teen Topsider just come down to the Benthic Territories to find her older brother so she can finally be free of the Commonwealth's children's services. She runs into Ty, and he takes her home to his family's claim because she would obviously just turn into shark bait on her own. Between helping Gemma find her brother, keeping her alive in the underwater world, and trying to prove to his parents he can help save the homestead, Ty has his hands full. Especially when the Seablite Gang decides to attack the next door neighbors putting Ty front and center on their radar because he's one of the few people to have seen them and escaped. And telling much more might just ruin the fun of the read. So that's where the summarizing halts.

What I like: Students love this book! Seriously, two books in this series is not enough for them. And I’ve yet to hand it to someone and have them come back disappointed. I liked the reimagined underwater Western motif, the undersea culture and world, the best (most realistic) scenario for rising ocean waters I've ever come across, and dynamic characters.

Target Readers:

  • So far my history with this book seems to show just about anyone will like this, but particularly underwater adventure fans, dystopia fans, and of course, Western fans.

Space Case (Moon Base Alpha, #1) by Stuart Gibbs
Dashiell Gibson is one of a handful of kids on Moon Base Alpha. Actually, he's one of a handful of people on Moon Base Alpha. There's a few families with both parents filling vital moon base rolls, as well as a couple other single specialists, and one snotty tourist family. Dash thinks they all know each other quite well. But when Dr. Holtz goes out the hatch and dies of a suit malfunction, Dash smells foul play. The Moon Base commander tells him to put his foul play theories deep under a moon rock and leave them there. Dash can't seem to let things be though. Dr. Holtz had a lot of stuff going for him and just hours before he died Dash overheard him in the bathroom talking about an exciting new discovery he was about to announce. Why would a scientist on the edge of a breakthrough do something stupid like go on a moonwalk alone? As Dash keeps poking his nose around base (because, let's face it, there's not much else for a kid to do on a small moon base) he discovers more and more residents of the base with possible motives for getting rid of the famous doctor. The question is, which motive was worth killing over, and who is next?

What I liked: This is solid murder mystery that is middle grade friendly and in a unique setting.

Target Readers:

  • Fans of books featuring life in space or who like a good mystery.

Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies by Andrea Beaty, ill. by Dan Santat
Twins Joules and Kevin are quite relieved to get to go to Camp Whatsitooya and get out of going to the Spam Fest with their parents. And it turns out a good thing that Joules and Kevin are well-versed in B scifi/horror flicks from a steady diet of The Late, Late, Late Creepy Show for Insomniacs. The things they've learned from those shows just might help them survive when strange things start happening at camp. Like the camp counselors force-feeding the campers sugary treats, forcing them to watch teen musicals, and in general acting a bit odder than when Joules and Kevin first arrived.

What I liked: It has the facade of all the makings of a horror story with the alien invasion (poking fun at tropes in B scifi/horror flicks) but thanks to Beaty's writing and Santat's illustrations, it ends up being humorous. It was quite entertaining and a quick read.

Target Readers:

  • Humor fans, reluctant readers, or those looking for a funny read-aloud (as long as you could have a way to show the sections where the story is told graphic novel-style through the illustrations).

The Wild Robot by Peter Brown
I’ve mentioned this in a few previous Brainstorms. Click the title to see my summary and review again. It’s the sweet story of a robot who gets marooned on an island and makes friends among the animals through her kindness.

Target Readers:

  • Robot fans, bittersweet story fans, survival story fans, those who prefer light scifi, and animal lovers.

The Search for WondLa (WondLa, #1) by Tony DiTerlizzi
Eva Nine is our heroine. She is twelve, human, and has never been outside of her Sanctuary before. She lives with Muthr, her caretaker robot, and spends her time in holographic simulations preparing for the day when she will leave Sanctuary and venture out onto the surface of Earth. That day comes sooner than Muthr or Eva thought when Sanctuary is attacked and Eva must run for her life. When she does emerge on the surface, she finds it little like the holographs depicted and there is no response from the other Sanctuaries and humans that are supposed to be out there. Eva does not get far before the creature who attacked her home captures her. He turns out to be a bounty hunter looking for rare life forms for Queen Ojo's museum, and Eva, to her shock, is as rare as they come. With the help of two fellow captive creatures, Rovender and Otto, Eva manages to escape, go back to get Muthr and then set out to find any other humans. Though Rovender has never heard of Earth or seen anyone else like Eva, a partially burnt photograph Eva found in Sanctuary shows another girl, a robot and an adult human and this gives her hope that there are others out there. On the photograph there are words but all but Wond and La have been destroyed. Eva calls it WondLa and thus the Search for WondLa means a search for others like her and answers to where she came from. As they search for Eva's WondLa, Muthr & Rovender & Otto have a number of adventures as they continue to try and evade the evil bounty hunter and other dangerous creatures that lurk about. This book does not answer all of Eva's questions, but she does find out where her WondLa came from.

What I loved: the world building, DiTerlizzi’s illustrations, the characters, and that our students love Eva and her world (all three books of it).

Target Readers:

  • Those who like imaginative new worlds, grand adventures, mysteries, and futuristic scifi.

Rocket & Groot: Stranded on Planet Stripmall (Rocket & Groot, #1) by Tom Angleberger
Rocket and Groot barely survive a swarm of space piranhas (thanks to some nifty taping by Veronica, the Tape Dispenser) and crash land on a tiny planet they quickly discover is one huge strip mall. After just a few store visits, the trio quickly figures out there's no trees or water on this planet to be had and all the stores are populated by robots trying to feed visitors to killer toilets. Rocket is all for just finding a spaceship and leaving, but Groot insists they fix the situation on the planet. With the help of Veronica, Rocket and Groot will get to the bottom of the weird stuff going on on Planet Strip Mall.

What I liked: A fun, goofy, heavily illustrated space adventure with everyone's favorite members of Guardians of the Galaxy. Veronica is an unexpected comic genius addition to the team. Yes, there are killer toilets involved, but the humor in this didn't seem overly middle school boy bathroom humor-ish. This is the first book in a middle grade series about Rocket & Groot Marvel has Angleberger writing.

Target Readers:

  • Rocket and Groot fans, those who like goofy humor and scifi, and reluctant readers.

What We Found in the Sofa and How It Saved the World by Henry Clark
The town of Cheshire is burning. No really. There's a seam of coal under the town and an accident at the chemical company in town turned the entire surrounding area into a constantly burning inferno dubbed Hellsboro. Most people have moved as far away as possible from the hot spot, except for three families. Those of River, Freak, and Fionna. That's why these three are the only ones venturing out to wait for their bus one morning and find a very comfy seating option on the side of the road. The boys have thoroughly explored the outer aspects of the sofa by the time Fionna gets there, but she is the one to ask the all important question, "Have you searched for loose change?" They quickly dive into the depths of the fluffy innards of the couch and find an odd assortment of items, including a dark green crayon labeled "zucchini." Never having set eyes on a zucchini crayon before, the curious trio researches it and finds out that the crayon is extremely rare and could make them all very rich. So they do what any tweens would do, they put it up for auction on eBay and as the bidding starts to hit price ranges in the thousands, the kids have a bout of conscience twisting. Did the person throwing out the couch know that the precious crayon was hiding in the sofa? River convinces the others to at least ask Mr. Underhill if he's missing a zucchini crayon. But to their surprise, the trio finds that Mr. Underhill passed on some years back and the new owner of the mansion is a younger looking man named Alf. Alf turns out to know all about the crayon, and tells the kids it is all a plot to get an alien from another universe to come out and reveal himself (because the alien bent on universe dominations is also a crayon crazed collector). This alien, known as a Mr. Disin owns the chemical plant in Cheshire, and the cell phone company, and a food chain, and lots of other things. He is using them all for his evil devices, and Alf tells the kids he needs their help to save the universe from falling further in Disin's clutches. Now, River, Freak, and Fionna don't normally believe strangers who appear out of the blue and start telling them about plots to take over the known universe, but the fact that the sofa they met outside can Tesser (and demonstrates its talent) along with background info the kids have that agrees with what Alf is telling them, the trio soon find themselves on a weird and exciting path to save the universe.

What I liked: All the nods to other classic scifi/fantasy books, and that it is a super fun scifi romp.

Target Readers:

  • Normal human versus evil alien scifi fans, humor fans, and those who like their books with plenty of nods to other books.

Graphic Novel Resources

Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #1) by Ben Hatke
Zita and her friend Joseph are out playing one day when a strange object plummets from space and makes a huge crater nearby. In her curiosity, Zita goes to investigate and inadvertently sends Joseph through a portal to somewhere else in the universe. Feeling guilty, Zita goes after him to try and rescue him. It turns out Joseph has been captured by aliens who think he is the sacrifice key to saving their planet from destruction by an asteroid. Zita teams up with some new friends she meets along the way to rescue Joseph and the planet too.

What I like: Zita is super popular with our students. All three of her books are never on the shelves because they are constantly checked out. It is a fun sci-fi adventure. Zita is cute, imperfect but lovable, and her friends are ever-so entertaining. The plot line has a good pace to it, and the illustrations fit the story perfectly.

Target Readers:

  • Anyone, especially scifi adventure fans.

Missile Mouse: The Star Crusher (Missle Mouse, #1) by Jake Parker
Missile Mouse is given the task of rescuing a scientist and finding the stores of dark plasma before the bad guys can use both to create a star crusher and wreak havoc in the galaxy. Of course, nothing can be easy.

What I liked: It is fun graphic novel space adventure with a plucky hero who comes across like a galactic Indiana Jones. The illustrations are bright and attractive, and the story keeps up a good steady pace. Both books are recommended.

Target Readers: 

  • Fans of plucky adventurers and scifi graphic novels.

The Silver Six by A.J. Lieberman, ill. by Darren Rawlings
After Phoebe is caught by Children's Services (a better option than getting caught by the mysterious guy trying to do her in), she meets five other kids who all lost their parents the same day and have several other things in common. They name themselves the Silver Six and decide to get to the bottom of their parents' deaths, hopefully evade the bad guys on their tails, and just maybe find an alternate energy source along the way.

What I liked: This was a super fun sci-fi graphic novel adventure. The artistry is bright and attractive, the plot keeps a fast pace, and there's heartwarming moments along the way.

Target Readers:

  • Mystery fans, space adventure fans, and graphic novel fans. Also those who don’t like series.

Earthling! by Mark Fearing
Bud has just moved to Arizona with his scientist father. He's waiting for the school bus the first day...and manages to get on the wrong one. He finds himself headed not to Abraham Lincoln Elementary School but to Cosmos Academy with other aliens from all over the galaxy. So this could be extremely cool, except that the aliens running the school are all convinced Earthlings are pure evil and are planning to wipe out the rest of the universe. Bud has to go undercover quickly as a Tenarian exchange student staying with an OK kid named Gort (who pretty much saved Bud from completely exposing his true identity and getting sent to suspension for life). Bud and Gort are trying to figure out how to get Bud back to Earth before anyone figures out who he really is. This isn't exactly easy since Earth is so evil Cosmos Academy has deleted all records of it's existence and location. Time is ticking away, and Principal Paranoid seems to be highly suspicious (both suspicious of Bud and suspicious-acting, as in up to no good).

What I liked: This graphic novel reads very much like Saturday morning cartoon of old in a good way. It's slightly larger than life, goofy, and brimming with impossible problems. The heroes are humorous, overly average, and use their quirky talents to eventually save the day. All the misunderstandings are eventually worked out, and everyone (even the bad guys) ends up having a happy ending. It's a lighthearted sci-fi romp through time and space that combines friendship, basketball know-how in zero Gs, stable singularities, hacking skills, and a variety of alien species to rival Starfleet academy.

Target Readers:

  • School story fans, humor fans, scifi fans, and graphic novel fans.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Brainstorm 92: Scifi reads for everyone (Part 1)

Science Fiction for everyone (Part 1) 

Science fiction is usually a good fit with readers who like to use their imaginations and ask what if questions. A lot of sci-fi is based on little morsels of real science or on stuff scientists are currently speculating, and that has always personally fascinated me. But don’t get stuck thinking this genre is only for nerds like me! Anyone who likes a little imagination can enjoy the genre. Currently, I’ve seen more interest in the genre among our teens, and I think it’s partly dystopia fans running out of dystopia books and deciding to branch out to the next most similar thing. The popularity of Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles has gotten a lot of our teen girls exploring the genre, as has the popularity of author Kasie West who primarily writes contemporary fiction but has one sci-fi duology. There’s only so much room here, so this week we’ll look at sci-fi picture books and lower grade fiction. Next week will feature science fiction books for middle grades, young adult and adults.

Picture Book Resources

Weasels by Elys Dolan
Unbeknownst to humans, the weasels are planning world domination. Their plan is in it's final countdown to launch - when suddenly something goes wrong with their doomsday machine. The tech weasels are trying to figure out what went wrong and the mad scientist weasels get involved when they can't solve the problem, but the real answer to the foiling of weasel madness is quite simple. [The machine got unplugged. (hide spoiler)]

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: For those who like the mad scientist branch of sci-fi.
  • Picture Books that Keep Older Readers in Mind: This is one of those picture books that is really for the adults, but has enough cute animals and silliness to entertain kids too. The head weasel has a monocle and small white pet (obviously characterized after a certain evil mastermind of the movies) that adults will get and kids won't. 
  • Animal Lovers: Lots of cute weasels doing silly things. Yep, I think that pretty much can sell this to animal lovers.
  • Humor Fans: When all the smartest weasels can’t figure out a very simple problem, someone is bound to smile. Also, there’s the whole ridiculous idea that weasels are secretly plotting to destroy the planet. 
  • Caffeine Lovers: There's a humorous side plot in here about the caffeinated drinks being passed around. 
  • Take Your Time/Silent Read: Now, there's a lot going on on each page with dialogue from numerous weasels, so this would be a hard one to read aloud. It's still fun to read on your own.

Baloney (Henry P.) by Jon Scieszka, ill. by Lane Smith
Henry P. Baloney is late once again and must come up with a very good reason for his tardiness or he will be expelled…for life. Henry says he has a very good reason. Whether he does or not, he for sure spins one whopper of a tale and just might be able to pass the day's tall tale writing assignment.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: Pick this one out for those who like some lovable aliens in their sci-fi.
  • Using Semantics: Henry’s vocabulary includes several words that English speakers aren’t likely to recognize. But using the context and the illustrations, readers should be able to figure out what each one means. It’s the perfect book to use when showing kids how to use semantics for puzzling out strange words.
  • Linguistics: Henry’s strange vocabulary uses very real words, just from a whole slew of different languages. But for the truly curious, there is a guide in the back. Each word is defined and the language it comes from is identified. Expand your global vocabulary with Henry’s words.
  • Fun Read: The illustration style is a little zany, but definitely fun and the tale is one incredibly imaginative ride.
  • Tall Tales: As the teacher eventually mentions, Henry’s story makes for one whopper of a tall tale.

Mr. Wuffles! by David Weisner
Mr Wuffles is a cat. Therefore, anything small and moving of its own free will is considered fair game to play with. The tiny aliens piloting the space ship Mr Wuffles has battered around aren't so fond of the play time. Their ship is damaged and they are in danger from a huge furry monster. With the help of some friendly insects (who also have had rough encounters with Mr Wuffles), the aliens are able to get their ship repaired and escape the clutches of Mr Wuffles. Much to the dismay of Mr Wuffles, who rather liked his new toy.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: This is one for alien invasion sci-fi fans.
  • Cat Lovers: Cat lovers should adore Mr. Wuffles and be solidly cheering for him.
  • Wordless Books: There are zero words in this book, though there’s plenty to look at. In fact, there are so many small details it will take several readings to appreciate all of the subtleties of the story.
  • Creative Writing: Of course, since it is wordless this can be turned into a writing activity. Have kids write text for the book. You might end up with quite a variety of versions since some of the story is left to interpretation and some will depend on how well kids have paid attention to the illustration details.

Interstellar Cinderella by Deborah Underwood, ill. by Meg Hunt
Cinderella is a mechanic who wants to go to the Prince's Royal Space Parade. Her stepmother and stepsisters decide to foil her plans of going in a ship she's fixed up by taking her toolbox away. Her fairy godrobot comes to the rescue and in turn, Cinderella is able to come to the aid of the Prince when his ship breaks down. The Prince sets out to find his mystery mechanic with a clever test.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: Hand this one to sci-fi fans who like tales about life in outer space.
  • Strong Female Character: I really liked the twist at the end of this Cinderella tale. Cinderella wins the attention of the Prince not by her looks but with her skills. Also, Cinderella decides she's too young to get married, but agrees to be the Prince's head mechanic instead. I like that she is a techy girl valued for her talents, and that she has a good head on her shoulders.
  • Cinderella Compare/Contrast: I’ve yet to do my Brainstorm of Cinderella adaptations. This will definitely reappear when I do that one someday. This has plenty of unique elements to compare with other Cinderella tales out there.
  • Illustrations: The illustrations are unique, full of sci-fi charm, and captivating. 
  • Rhyming: The story is told amazingly succinctly in a very well done rhyme.

Are We There Yet? by Dan Santat
It’s time for a family road trip. A boy, his father and mother are headed to Grandma’s for her birthday. But the ride seems to be taking forever. No, seriously. I’m pretty sure they just saw a dinosaur outside the window…no wait, it’s a flying car. Pirates? The road to Grandma’s has never been quite this interesting before.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: Hand this one to sci-fi fans who like time travel.
  • Road Trips: If you’re headed on a road trip, this would be a timely entertaining read. It’s super creative concept about one wild and crazy imaginative ride to Grandma’s. 
  • Unconventional Books: Santat has fun with the format of the book as you read. You’ve got to turn it upside down and turn pages backwards for a while. And at one point there’s a QR code included as part of the illustration. I’ve yet to see what it leads to. 
  • Debate the Ending: Perhaps the best part of this book is a photo at Grandma’s party that will have readers debating if the trip was real or imaginary.
  • Fun Read: As mentioned, this wild ride is pretty entertaining.

Jimmy Zangwow’s Out-of-this-world Moon Pie Adventure by Tony DiTerlizzi
Jimmy Zangwow is hungry for some Moon Pies. If only his new invention would work. It does! Oh boy, Jimmy is off to the moon to get himself some Moon Pies. Of course, he can't have Moon Pies without milk, so he stops by the Milky Way to net some milk jugs but accidentally disturbs the dreaded Grimble Grinder whose grumbles knock Jimmy and his jalopy, Moon Pies, and milk down to Mars. Jimmy befriends the Martians by sharing his beloved Moon Pies. But the Grimble Grinder is still on his tail. Can Jimmy save himself and the Martians from the horrible monster?

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: This one is for sci-fi fans who like imaginative new answers for things they thought they knew. (Like where Moon Pies come from and what the milky way is made out of.) Also good for sci-fi fans who like space travel adventures.
  • Moon Pie Fans: If you like a good moon pie, how can you resist a story all about them? (Oh, but make sure you have some on hand to eat while you read this.)
  • Joys of Sharing: You know that Jimmy really likes moon pies, but when confronted with new friends and when lives are on the line, Jimmy doesn’t hesitate to share…even if it means he might not get one. A great look at the perks of joyful sharing. 
  • Imagination Fans: Those who like a good imaginative story should eat this up. DiTerlizzi’s imagination flows in not only the text, but also the illustrations. Who draws Martians the way he does?
  • Fun Read Aloud: If you emote enough, you can have kids excited, trepidatious, and laughing out loud for this read aloud. A lot of the giggling is thanks to the names of certain characters and some of the sounds DiTerlizzi included, it can be a bit of a tongue twister, especially the cheers of the Martians.

Lower Grade Fiction

March of the Mini Beasts (DATA Set, #1) by Ada Hopper, ill. by Sam Ricks
The three brainiac friends who form a club called DATA set are selling chocolate bars for their science club when they meet a real, live mad scientist. Not only does he buy their chocolate, he demonstrates his growth ray on their toys. But the ray has some unexpected side-effects that give the friends and Dr. Bunsen quite an adventure.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: This series is a great introduction to the sci-fi genre for lower grades with large font text and plenty of illustrations that promises to introduce readers to some of the common escapades of science fiction. 
  • Animal Fans: Kids should lap up the whimsical adventure in this one, who wouldn't love their toy animals turning into real life miniature critters? The adult reader in me thought that the zoo they visit needs some more observant keepers, but it was a minor detail kids probably won't even think about.

Ricky Ricotta’s Mighty Robot (Might Robot, #1) by Dav Pilkey, ill. by Dan Santat
Ricky Ricotta has been having problems with bullies pestering him at school, but when he helps rescue Mighty Robot from the evil Dr. Stinky, he gains a friend and a solution to his bully problems. Of course, Dr. Stinky isn't too happy about losing his robot, so he creates a new monster that threatens the world. But though there's an epic battle, the huge lizard is no match for Might Robot.

There are two versions of this series now. The originals had black and white illustrations by Martin Ontiveros. The new editions have full color illustrations by Dan Santat.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: Hand any of the books in this series to mad scientist and robot sci-fi story fans.
  • Reluctant Readers: All the books in this series have zany titles and situations, attractive illustrations, and pages you can flip back and forth to watch the monsters and robot battle. Hard to find a kid who can resist these, no matter how they feel about reading.

Star Attack! (Space Penguins, #1) by L.A. Courtenay
The Space Penguins aboard the Tunafish receive a distress call from a pizza delivery craft and zoom to the rescue. When they arrive at the coordinates of the distress signal there's no sign of any pizza, but there is a gigantic starfish space station. They soon find themselves sucked into the Death Starspace station by tractor beam and in the evil clutches of their arch-nemesis Beaky Wader who's had some cybernetic improvements and now wants to be called Dark Wader. Dark Wader invites the penguins to join him, but the penguins wouldn't dream of going over to the dark side (even though the dark side does seem to have some super fun ice slides). Thanks to some quick thinking and teamwork, the crew of the Tunafish is able to evade Wader's evil plan and save the day.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: Hand this one to those who like adventures in space.
  • Animal Lovers: Penguins! The concept of a group of penguins as a space crew has obviously been done before (3-2-1 Penguins) but this manages to not feel like a rip-off of that series (the penguins do bear some resemblance to certain black and white feathered animated stars from Madagascar though...).
  • Humor Fans: Loaded with fishy smells and obvious Star Wars puns, this is aimed at the lower-middle elementary crowd who enjoy silly humor. 

Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover by Cece Bell
Rabbit and Robot are having a sleepover. Rabbit has things all planned out, but as inevitably happens, things don't always work out as planned. Thankfully, Robot is there to help out.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Science Fiction Fans: Hand this to lite sci-fi fans, and of course, robot story fans.
  • Humor Fans: I'm sure kids will like the two main characters. Rabbit and Robot are both a little silly in their own ways. 
  • Beginning Readers: This is aimed at those just beginning to read. The text and concepts are quite simplistic, but perfect for readers just testing out their skills.
  • Friendship Advice/Little Perfectionists: This has some good points for kids on friendships and perfectionism.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Brainstorm 91: Jack Fairy Tale Adaptations

It’s time for Jack, now. This Brainstorm looks at adaptations of both “Jack and the Beanstalk” and “Jack the Giant Killer” (modern writers often mishmash the two fairy tales together, so I’m not going to distinguish which is which).

Picture Book Resources

Jack and the Baked Beanstalk by Colin Stimpson
Jack buys a can of magic baked beans instead of the coffee his mom sent him out to get for their struggling diner. He knows how the tale is supposed to go, so he scrambles up the beanstalk to claim the treasure. He forgot one little detail though, there's also a giant up there. This giant is uncommonly friendly though. He is thrilled to have a visitor to make lunch for and get a break from counting his money. He willingly lets Jack take the magic hen and the radio with him back down the beanstalk, but he's reluctant to come too because this giant's a bit afraid of heights. Jack is worried the giant may end up lonely, but an accident helps everything work out ok.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Humor Fans: This is a humorous rewrite of Jack and the Beanstalk safe and fun for any age. 
  • Compare/Contrast: There’s plenty of differences from the average Jack tale in this book to point out, but enough similarities to make this a book that when compared with original versions of the tale will yield lots of compare/contrast points. Personally, I loved the twists on the normal tale in this one.
  • Fun Illustration Fans: The illustrations in this are cartoonish and very kid friendly. It has a little bit of a retro feel since Jack’s mom runs a diner and the illustrations reflect that time period a bit.
  • Baked Bean Fans: Baked beans often get a bad rap in literature, but there are plenty of people out there who enjoy this food. Give this book to your favorite baked bean fan.

Giants Have Feelings Too / Jack and the Beanstalk by Alvin Granowsky, ill. by Henry Buerchkholtz and Linda Graves
This book is part of the Another Point of View series. Half of the book is a traditional telling of the fairy tale. The other half of the book tells the tale from the giant’s perspective.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Point of View: This series is obviously aimed at getting kids to think of things from multiple points of view. An easy to grasp example when talking about point of view in writing. The giant’s side explains how he was hurt by Jack’s actions, and that could easily lead into a discussion of why considering the other person’s perspective in a conflict is important.
  • Moral Debate: In the traditional tale, Jack does some thieving to help his family survive. This book provides plenty of fodder to debate who the good guy or bad guy is, and whether Jack’s actions were ok or not.
  • Compare/Contrast: Of course you can compare and contrast the two versions of the story here, but you can also compare and contrast these versions with other versions of the Jack stories. Even two traditional retellings often have differences.

A Bean, a Stalk, and a Boy Named Jack by William Joyce, ill. by Kenny Callicutt
There's a bit of a shortage of water in the land where an average boy named Jack and an average bean end up doing big things for the whole land (with a little help from a wizard and encouragement from a stinky toe).

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Compare/Contrast: This is another retelling that is not your typical Jack and the Beanstalk tale with plenty of things for readers to notice in a compare/contrast activity with another retelling or a more traditional telling. In this one Jack and Bean are a cheery team (yes, you read that right, the bean is a character in this one) and the giant turns out to be a friendly sort. 
  • Water Conservation: There’s a bit of a water conservation message tied into this Jack story, making it a great book to remind kids that water is an important resource we need to take care of. May be especially good for kids who have a habit of forgetting to turn off the water or seem to take forever in the shower.
  • Illustration Fans: Sometimes I pick up a book just to look at the illustrations. I think that’s totally fine, and I know many others out there do the same thing. The illustrations in this are eye-catching, something I’ve come to expect from anything William Joyce puts his name on, and this didn’t disappoint. It is sure to be as much of a feast for the eyes as the story is for the mind.

Middle Grade Fiction Resources

Jack: the True Story of Jack & the Beanstalk by Liesl Shurtliff
Jack, great (x6) grandson of THE Jack the Giant Killer, feels destined for greatness. He was born to take on sinister giants. The only problem is, giants only seem to exist in his father's tales. And then one day it rains dirt. Giants invade the land and take all the crops and the entire village, including his papa! Jack eventually finds a way to their land in the sky, but getting to the land of the giants is only the beginning of his challenges. In the stories of Jack the Giant Killer, the giants were easily vanquished and the day was won rather quickly. However, the land of giants is full of unmentioned dangers, like cats the size of mountains and moody pixies. Not to mention the fact that once you're in the land of giants it is really, really hard to get anywhere fast because everything is so BIG. And the giants think you're an elf and all elves are slaves of the King (who has a serious obsession with gold) and should be working. Working to help process the food that was stolen from the land below because the giant land has been devastated by famine. It'll take some perseverance and cunning to be able to find Papa, free the elves, end the famine, curtail the greed of the giant King, and rid the land below from the plague of giants once and for all.

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Fairy Tale/Adventure/Fantasy/Books with Good Messages Fans: Shurtliff manages to blend the Jack the Giant Killer and Jack and the Beanstalk tales into a more human tale with some depth and that has a hero who cares about things that really matter (hint: not gold). In tactful ways and completely tied into the story so it doesn't feel preachy, Shurtliff tackles slavery, conservation practices, and greed. It could be heavy, but it isn't and gets readers thinking about these issues without even realizing it. And I love the fact that it's another fairy tale adventure with a male lead; those are sure few and far between in the fairytale book world. So it has a good message, it's a fun adventure, and it helps broaden the fairytale genre readership - so many reasons to love this book. 
  • Companion Book Fans: There are a few readers out there who like finding the little things that tie related books together, but don’t like the pressures of reading an entire series. Jack, Rump, and Red by Shurtliff are perfect for these readers. Some characters appear in multiple books, but you can totally jump into any of these books and fully get the story without reading the others. 
  • Read Aloud: This would be a great pick for a family or class read aloud with it's wide appeal, exciting adventure, and great topics for discussions.

Half upon a Time (Half upon a Time, #1) by James Riley
Jack's life really doesn't have much of a pleasant outlook. His father disappeared after stealing some things from a giant. He is an absolute failure at doing anything right in hero school, and so being a hero doesn't seem likely. And since he doesn't have royal blood, that pretty much dooms him to being a no-name peasant the rest of his life. But then one day a princess falls into his life. No really. She falls out of the sky and practically knocks him over. May is not the most conventional princess. In fact, she didn't even know she had royal blood until some guy in green and a bunch of dwarves showed up at her grandma's house and kidnapped her grandma, but not before that woman sent May through a portal to this strange fairy tale land. Thus Jack finds himself unwittingly the helper for a rather sarcastic and unprincessy princess looking for her rather famous grandmother (anyone heard of Snow White?) in a magical land that doesn't seem to have as many happy endings as the stories May has read. Along the way May and Jack gain some friends, make some enemies, and then get totally confused at the end as some people turn out to not be exactly who they were claiming to be. (And yes, if you can get your hands on the rest of the series all at once, that might be advisable. The book ends with a few more questions than answers.)

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Fairy Tale Mashup Fans: There are three books in this series, and though I’m including it here because Jack is a main character, there’s a whole slew of other fairy tale characters who end up appearing. Riley puts his own twist on characters and plot lines, to create a delightfully comic and adventurous fractured fairy tale world without getting quite as dark as some other recent fairy tale revisions. Fairy tale fans should love this book, especially those that speak sarcasm fluently.
  • Humor Fans: Books one and two in this series are quite humorous, and good for several laughs. (Book three gets more serious as the plot points all come to a head, so it isn’t as funny.) 

Graphic Novel Resource

Calamity Jack (Rapunzel’s Revenge, #2) by Shannon & Dean Hale, ill. by Nathan Hale
Jack gives a little of the back story for Rapunzel's friend Jack whom she picked up in Rapunzel's Revenge as a partner in setting things to right. The pair are headed back to Jack's home town, so that Jack can help make things right for his poor mother. But they arrive to find the city in a state of disrepair and in the middle of a war with the antmen. Even worse, Jack's mother has been captured by an evil giant and kept as his slave until he can get his hands on the miscreant who stole his golden goose and killed one of his henchmen (though accidentally). Rapunzel and Jack soon team up with the local newspaper owner who smells mischief afoot and has noticed a pattern in a certain giant taking over certain important businesses after they are "accidentally" the sites of battles between the antmen and the city. Is Mr Big-bad-giant behind the war, and if so, how can our heroes ever hope to beat him?

Activity Tie-ins/Target Readers:

  • Fairy Tale Fans: Shannon and Dean Hale had fun taking Rapunzel and Jack’s tales and making them their own in this series. You’ve definitely never seen Jack’s story told quite like this. It is still pretty straightforward and somewhat predictable, but quite enjoyable.
  • Graphic Novel Fans: Nathan Hale’s art only adds to the fun in this book (ex: I LOVED that the horrifying, blood-thristy guard Jabberwocky for the giant's fortress had a dog-type bed with Mr Jabbers embroidered on it). 
  • Western Fans: Since it isn’t abundantly clear, the Hales have put Jack and Rapunzel (aka Punzi) in a Western setting for these graphic novels. Punzi uses her long hair to lasso criminals and other fun little Western adaptations.