Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Brainstorm 225: More Fiction/Nonfiction Book Pairs

This week’s Brainstorm features 5 pairs of fiction and nonfiction books that would be great to read together. Next week we’ll be starting up the Top 10s of 2020.

2 Subway Books

Jonathan Clean Up…Then He Heard a Sound by Robert Munsch, ill. by Michael Martchenko

Jonathan's mother leaves and asks him to try not to make a mess. Jonathan is doing a good job of not making a mess, but the people who come out of the subway stop that suddenly opens in his house aren't. How can Jonathan clean up the mess if people keep pouring through his house and leaving destruction in their wake?

A fantastical and imaginative story about a boy who is a part of a solution instead of becoming part of the problem. He's a great example for kids. Is the mess his fault? Nope. Is anyone else doing something to fix it? Nope. So Jonathan does. It wasn't his responsibility or his fault, but he finds a way to make things better. 

Underground:Subway Systems around the World by Uijung Kim

A survey of ten cities' subway systems with a page of infographics followed by a seek-and-find page that includes items unique to that location's people and culture. Cities included are Beijing, London, Madrid, Mexico City, Moscow, New York, Paris, Seoul, Sydney, and Tokyo.

Target Readers:

Humor Fans, Curious Readers, Fans of Good Citizen Stories, Subway Fans, Picture Book Readers

Some Skunk Love

A Boy Called Bat (A Boy Called Bat, #1) by Elana K. Arnold, ill. by Charles Santoso

Meet Bixby Alexander Tam (called BAT). Bat has autism, but he has learned how to function in public...mostly. He still has problems understanding emotions, and he still gets upset sometimes when things aren't a certain way. Readers will get to understand Bat better as they watch him care for, get attached to, and plot how to keep a baby skunk his veterinarian mother brings home. The skunks' mother was pregnant and killed in an accident, but Bat's mom was able to save the kit. It is super tiny when they first start to care for it, and a bit of work. But Bat loves animals. He loves to learn about them and knows all sorts of things about them. His mother says that after four weeks they'll need to give the kit to a rescue shelter, but Bat is bound and determined to find a way to keep the kit.

The Secret Life of the Skunk (Secret Life) by Laurence Pringle, ill. by Kate Garchinsky

A look at the life of a skunk from very tiny kit to adult.

Target Readers:

Animal Lovers, Skunk Lovers, Readers Looking for Authentic Autistic Characters, Art Lovers, Lower Grade Readers

Urban Wildlife

Lion Down (FunJungle, #5) by Stuart Gibbs

Teddy is not actively seeking out any new cases after the dangerous situations his past sleuthing got him into. But that doesn't stop others from approaching him with new puzzles. J.J. has another FunJungle case, and this time he got permission from Teddy's parents first before hiring Teddy to solve the case. Someone has been poisoning the giraffes every Sunday for the past few weeks giving them the runs on Monday. The FunJungle security team hasn't figured out what the giraffes are eating or who is giving it to them, so Teddy (and Summer) are on the case. Doc's daughter Lily, an environmental activist with a bit of a reputation is in town too. A friend of hers in Fish and Wildlife wants Teddy to help them on a case. The dog of a local radio/TV/internet celebrity known for running his mouth and saying outlandish things has been found dead. The man wants to blame a mountain lion that lives in the area, but the Fish & Wildlife people aren't sure the evidence points to that. Unfortunately, the celeb has enough followers and clout that higher ups in the dept are getting pressure to put out a license to hunt and kill the lion, even if the evidence isn't clear. Can Teddy solve the mystery of the giraffes and save the life of a local wildcat before the whole town goes crazy (and preferably without getting almost killed this time)?

Backyard Bears: Conservation, Habitat Changes, and the Rise of Urban Wildlife (Scientists in the Field) by Amy Cherrix

Tag along with scientists studying the black bears living in Asheville, NC and its suburbs. They are looking at how living in the city is affecting the health, longevity, and population of the bears. The book also looks at several other wild animals that have adapted to living in urban areas.

The message of this book isn't so much get the animals out or even get the people out, it is much more balanced and looks at how wild animals and humans can live together successfully. The program the book primarily focuses on has done a great job of educating the public on how to avoid negative run-ins with bears and how to live with them in the area. They aren't encouraging the bears to move in, but they recognize that the bears are there to stay and the people need to know how to live with these big omnivores next door. It is a fascinating look at urban wildlife. And the way people and animals are impacting each other. 

Target Readers:

Animal Lovers, Readers Studying Urban Wildlife, Curious Readers, Mystery Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Manhattan Then & Now

The Shadow Cipher (York, #1) by Laura Ruby

The Morningstarr twins revolutionized NYC with their inventions in the late 1700s/early 1800s, and then they disappeared but left a cipher behind in the newspaper promising a treasure to whoever found it. In the past 200 years many have tried to solve the cipher, but no one has succeeded. Tess and Theo Biedermann have lived all their lives in one of the Morningstarr buildings. When a rich developer purchases their building suddenly and gives the residents one month to clear out, everyone is floored. They though they would live in this quirky building forever. Tess and Theo, together with their neighbor Jaime decide that the best solution to their sudden homing crisis is to solve the cipher. But if no one has had success in 200 years, can three tweens really have a chance?

This was a delightful steampunk treasure hunt. There's just the right mix of familiar aspects of New York City and things that are new and different because of the Morningstarr inventions. 

Manhattan: Mapping the Story of an Island by Jennifer Thermes

A look at how the island of Manhattan has changed over the past ~1000 years. From the days when it was wild, to when the Lenape lived on the island, to the arrival of Europeans and then how buildings and roads developed and changed the island till present day.

Target Readers:

Fans of Books Set in Manhattan, Steampunk Fans, Mystery Fans, History Fans, Curious Readers, Treasure Hunt Fans, Middle Grade Readers


True & Fictional Versions of the Same WWII Story

My Real Name Is Hanna by Tara Lynn Masih

Hanna and her family have experienced a lot of change in their little town. They were Polish and then Russian, and now the Nazis are moving closer and closer. At first her Jewish family thinks they will be safe hiding in their house at night when raids are frequent, but it soon becomes clear they must get a better hiding place. The quest for safety drives them first into the forest and then into some nearby caves. But even in the depths of the earth they aren't safe. Can Hanna and her family and friends survive all the Germans' attempts to wipe them off the face of the earth?

This story is based on a real WWII account of a group of families who retreated into a series of caves called The Priest's Grotto to survive.

The Secret of Priest's Grotto: a Holocaust Survival Story by Peter Lane Taylor with Christos Nicola

The true story of the heroic survival of a group of Jews in Western Ukraine who evaded the Nazis by living in caves for over a year. The narrative goes back and forth between the survival story and the story of the cave explorer who stumbled across the unique Holocaust story and has ventured into the historic caves. Accompanied by numerous pictures of the caves and the survivors.

Target Readers:

WWII Story Fans, Light World War II Story Fans, Survival Story Fans, History Fans, Young Adult Readers

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Brainstorm 224: Portal Worlds

Did you hear that The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis turned 70 years old last month? To celebrate the enduring legacy of Narnia I thought it’d be fun to explore some other portal fantasy stories and the unique ways people get into fantasy worlds. The Pevensies and gang got into Narnia and other worlds through not only the wardrobe but a painting, some rings & pools, and just standing on a train station platform. There are a whole bunch of stories about people being transported into and out of books, so I’m not going to include those since I will likely do a whole separate Brainstorm on those. I’m also not going to include any demigod stories as those also have the potential for their own Brainstorm. I’m also going to leave off classic portal stories that existed before Narnia, like Peter Pan, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, and The Wizard of Oz. The books in today's Brainstorm are all just average humans sucked into a fantasy world one way or another. Most creative portal goes to Brandon Mull’s Beyonders series in my opinion, I’ll just let you read my summary and find out why. For the recommendations that involve an entire series, clicking the series name will take you to my review of the first book in the series. For the stand alone books, clicking the title link will go to that specific title. Enjoy venturing to other worlds!

The Beyonders series by Brandon Mull

Jason, 8th grader and baseball pitcher, finds himself entering an alternate universe after getting swallowed by a hippo. (Yes, you read that right. A hippo.) Jason finds himself drawn into a quest to save this other world from the evil magician-emperor. As a person from Earth, he is known as a Beyonder. He quickly meets Rachel, another Beyonder around his age who was brought to this world the same time as he was. Some even believe they were called there. He meets all sorts of people and creatures as he finds himself in quite a variety of locations on this quest. 

This series has been steadily popular with the teens and tweens since it came out. It’s also a great segue series for kids in that stage of transitioning between middle grade and young adult.

Target Readers:

Epic Fantasy Fans, Normal Kids to the Rescue Story Fans, Dystopia Fans, Imaginative World Building Fans, Middle Grade & Young Adult Readers

The Dark Lord of Derkholm by Diana Wynne Jones

Enter a world stuck on replaying an epic fantasy cycle of bad guy in charge, good guys come to the world to rescue them, all so that tourists from a real world can get their kicks being the heroes in a fantasy adventure. But the world has had enough, and this time they want a real hero.

Jones, a master of the fantasy genre, has fun poking fun at fantasy tropes, and the result is quite funny. You can read this as a stand alone, or if you want more, pick up The Year of the Griffin too.

Target Readers:

Fantasy Fans, Humor Fans, Young Adult Readers

The Five Kingdoms series by Brandon Mull

Cole and his friends manage to find a haunted house on Halloween that proves scarier than anything they ever dreamed, because the house is a trap and the people running it kidnap them and take them through a portal to a totally different world. Cole evades their clutches for a little while, but follows his friends through the portal in hopes of rescuing them…only to end up captured as well, and headed to a life of slavery. Cole's friends Jenna and Dalton are headed to the High King, but Cole is sold to the Sky Raiders. The Sky Raiders use Cole as a scout on their raiding missions. But these raiding missions are unlike anything Cole has seen before. First of all, there's the fact that they're raiding castles floating in the air. Secondly, there's the fact that these castles are usually guarded by semblences, magically created creatures that aren't as real away from their castles, but are quite deadly on their floating abodes. Cole's job as a scout is to see what kind of nasty semblences might be lurking on castles before everyone jumps in for the raid. Yep, he's pretty much bait. The good news is that he only has to survive 50 of them and then he's a free man...of course, the fact that few people live past 15 raids isn't very encouraging. Cole doesn't get quite that far before his life as a Sky Raider gets drastically interrupted. Fellow Sky Raider Mira is not who she seems and some seriously bad guys are after her. Cole, Jace and Twitch all help Mira (and themselves) escape from the Raiders and aid Mira in her escape/mission. 

The kids go on in the next 4 books trying to find and free all the other human kids brought to this land, while also helping the people of the land get out from under the rule of a tyrant.

Target Readers: 

Fantasy Fans, Imaginative Worldbuilding Fans, Adventure Fans, Epic Quest Fans, Dystopia Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi

Alice Alexis Queensmeadow has never liked Oliver since the day he made fun of her lack of color at school. Alice has always been self-conscious about her conspicuous lack of coloring in a world where color is a sign of magic build up. Alice has successfully avoided Oliver and most others for years. But then, Oliver has the gumption to talk to her and suggest that he knows where her father disappeared to...and that he needs her help to find him. Well, Alice may not like Oliver much at all, but she dearly loves her Father and misses him everyday. So she agrees to help Oliver on his quest. But Alice has no idea what she's getting herself into. Oliver takes her to a totally different magical world from Ferenwood; he takes her to Futhermore. Ferenwood may have its quirks, but it's nothing like the craziness of Furthermore. The strange new lands and customs would be confusing enough without Oliver being such a tight-lipped, confusing guide. Alice and Oliver must learn quite a lot more than the quirks of Furthermore if they want to survive and rescue Alice's father. 

Target Readers:

Fantasy Fans, Lyrical Writing Fans, Alice in Wonderland Inspired Story Fans, Imaginative World Building Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Journey trilogy by Aaron Becker

When everyone else is busy, a little girl entertains herself with a piece of magical red chalk that takes her on an exciting adventure and eventually introduces her to a friend.
The 2nd and 3rd books also feature adventures into fantasy worlds thanks to pieces of magical chalk.

Target Readers:
Fantasy Fans, Imaginative Story Fans, Wordless Book Fans, Picture Book Readers


 Lift by Minh Lê, ill. by Dan Santat

Iris is the elevator pusher. It is her job until her little brother betrays her one day. Iris isn't happy. At all. But then she sees something the elevator repairman threw out, takes it home, and discovers a wondrous new thing that's all her own.

Target Readers:

Fantasy Fans, Sibling Story Fans, Imaginative Story Fans, Picture Book Readers

The Map to Everywhere series by Carrie Ryan & John Parke Davis

Marrill is bemoaning the fact that her mother is sick again and they can't move on to the next exciting locale when she encounters a magic ship in the Pirate Stream, which appears out of nowhere in a parking lot in Phoenix, AZ. After the magician onboard heals her of a little run-in with a magical barnacle, she realizes he could heal her mom. She hops on board to ask him to do so, and inadvertently is swept away on the magical Pirate Stream on quite the adventure. To be able to find their way back to Phoenix, the crew will need to find the Map to Everywhere, which is in pieces all over the magical universe. As they hunt for the map, they also pick up Fin, a master thief who is extremely forgettable. In fact, Marrill is one of the few people to ever remember Fin beyond five minutes. Fin is also on a hunt. A hunt for his mother and hopes to use the map for his quest. Fin has in his possession a special key that the evil Oracle needs to seal everyone's doom. It is a race to find the pieces of the map, survive the strange new places visited along the way, and avoid the end of the world.

Target Readers:

Fantasy Fans, Adventure Fans, Pirate Ship Adventure Fans, Epic Quest Fans, Middle Grade Readers

Nevermoor series by Jessica Townsend

Morrigan Crow has known since forever exactly when she would die. Not that it is a big secret. She was born on Eventide, which means she'll die at midnight before the next age begins on her eleventh birthday, and also means everyone knows she's cursed. Her long-suffering father has paid off many a person who fell foul of her look or touch, though Morrigan doesn't believe half of them are really her fault. As the age draws to a close and her death looms, Morrigan is desperate for any sign of affection from her family or hope that she could live to see twelve. Hope comes in the funniest packages, like a wildly dressed ginger-haired man named Jupiter who snatches her away to the land of Nevermoor and sponsors her as a candidate for the Wundrous Society. But others don't want her to pass the trials for Society membership, her sponsor seems to forget to train her at all, and if she fails she will be sent back to her home to the death she narrowly evaded.

It is hard to summarize this without giving things away or spoiling the fun, and I totally can’t tell you what books 2 or 3 are about without major spoilers. The first book’s got the big mystery of what Morrigan's big talent is that Jupiter thinks will get her into the society, and the trials she has to pass to keep in the competition. But between those you get to explore the Hotel Deucalion Jupiter owns, which is has its own personality and decorating abilities. There's also the hotel residents to get to know, a varied assortment of entertaining personalities. This series is one of my 2 go-to series I hand to kids who ask if I have anything similar to Harry Potter. And it is pretty popular. Book 3 just came out, so this series, unlike all the others in this Brainstorm, is still ongoing. 

Target Readers:

Fantasy Fans, Magical School Fans, Imaginative World Building Fans, Middle Grade Readers


Unhooked by Lisa Maxwell

Gwen always thought her mom was slightly crazy. They constantly move, and it feels like her mom is scared of her own shadow. Gwen hopes the paranoia isn't genetic. But then one night Gwen leaves the window open and finds herself kidnapped by terrifying creatures only to awaken on a ship in what the captain claims is Neverland. This isn't the Neverland of Mr. Barrie's stories, though. It is much more sinister. The island is a constantly changing place eager to trap you. There are creatures in the sea eager to devour you, shadows are portals for the creatures who kidnapped Gwen, and there is something in the air that makes humans forget most if not all of their past. Gwen has to fight hard to remember who she is, and when she finds out that her best friend Olivia is also in Neverland, she will stop at nothing to get to her and find a way to get both of them back. But who to trust? The pirate captain she's witnessed slaughter other boys? Pan, the hero of Barrie's stories? Or the Fey who seem like they'd just as soon eat you as help you? Perhaps the bigger question, though, is who brought Gwen and Olivia to this land, and why?

Target Readers:

Fantasy Fans, Neverland-inspired Story Fans, Thriller Fans, Young Adult Readers

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Brainstorm 223: Fiction/Nonfiction Pairs to Read Together

I have three fiction/nonfiction pairs of books that go really well together for you today. The last pairing includes options of whether you want all the details in your nonfiction pairing or just a quick read. 

Pair 1: Internet Safety & Manners

A fiction & nonfiction book that teach about internet safety and social skills.

Nerdy Birdy Tweets by Aaron Reynolds, ill. by Matt Davies

Nerdy Birdy and Vulture get sucked into the new game Tweester. When Nerdy Birdy posts something about Vulture to get laughs but hurts Vulture's feelings, will the two be able to keep their friendship?

Target Readers:

Young Internet Users, Animal Lovers, Picture Book Readers, Lower & Middle Grade Readers

On the Internet: Our First Talk about Online Safety by Dr. Jillian Roberts, ill. by Jane Heinrichs

A superbly done introduction to online safety for kids.

Roberts writes in a way that is clear enough to understand but also protects innocence. This won't hurt kids in the information related or spark undesired curiosity, but it will arm them with some very important skills as they navigate the world online. I was very impressed by not only how tactfully it was written but how thoroughly it covers the basics of online safety.

Target Readers:

Young Internet Users, Nonfiction Fans, Picture Book Readers, Lower & Middle Grade Readers

African Refugees

A fiction story and true story about kids in refugee camps in Africa. Both feature kids with disabilities.

The Red Pencil by Andrea Davis Pinkney, ill. by Shane W. Evans

Amira's life is simple and happy, that is until the Janjaweed attack her family's village, killing her father and many others. Then Amira, her Muma, sister Leila and old friends Amwar and Gamal have to go to the refugee city at Kamal to find safety. Life there is hard and Amira's tongue refuses to work since the attack, but a gift of a red pencil and paper helps Amira's voice find wings and gives her hope for the future.

Target Readers: 

Contemporary Fiction Fans, Refugee Story Fans, Fans of Stories about Mutism, Novels in Verse Fans, Fans of Quick Reads, Middle Grade Readers

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

A graphic novel autobiography of Omar Mohamed, who had to escape the violence in Somalia with his disabled brother Hassan, and grew up in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Omar and Hassan were separated from their mother in the turmoil in Somalia, so Omar has to care for his brother who can't talk and has seizures. An older woman helps look after them, but Omar shoulders the majority of the responsibility of feeding, clothing, and caring for their needs. We watch as they grow up, struggle to survive in the refugee camp with very little hope of resettlement.

Target Readers:

Autobiography Fans, Graphic Novel Fans, Refugee Story Fans, Sibling Story Fans, Fans of Stories about Kids with Special Needs, Middle Grade Readers

Plant Hunters & Food Safety

This fiction story heavily features a plant hunter who now is in food production. Plant hunting of the 1800-1900s comes up a lot as does the campaign for greater food safety regulation by Mr. Wiley in the early 1900s, so I couldn't choose between the two nonfiction reads. Both match really well to the story. The plant hunters book is a pretty quick read, while the food safety one is longer and much more detailed. Of course, you could read all 3 too. 

The Spice King (Hope and Glory, #1) by Elizabeth Camden

Annabelle Larkin is trying to secure a permanent spot at the Smithsonian. She's interning right now so that her sister can work at the Library of Congress with a special blind reading program. They are a long way from their Kansas home, but Annabelle really wants to make this work and put her agricultural/botanical knowledge to use. Her boss is not giving her much hope of her securing a permanent spot. Her one hope is if she can get reclusive spice baron Gray Delacroix who rumor to give her a clipping from his greenhouses. Rumor has it he has a very rare vanilla orchid. Based on his letter responses, Annabelle might as well trying to ask him for the arm of his firstborn child. She decides to go see him in person, and actually gets her foot in the door. Gray Delacroix has spent decades traveling the world and is ready to settle down. And this woman from the Smithsonian has him smitten. But will he be able to give Annabelle something that will spur the Smithsonian to give her a permanent job, or will the War Department and Gray's siblings get in the way of the two of them forming a relationship?

Target Readers:

Historical Fiction Fans, Clean Romance Fans, Washington D.C. Setting Fans, Sibling Story Fans, Fans of Blind Characters, Christian Fiction Fans, Mystery Fans, Spy Story Fans, Adult Readers (though totally approachable for teens)

Plant Hunters: True Stories of Their Daring Adventures to the Far Corners of the Earth by Anita Silvey

Ms Silvey tells how men (and a few women) were willing to face horrible weather, dangerous terrain, savage wild animals, and unfriendly locals to find "boring" old plants. Plants that were needed to boost economics, create life-saving medicine, or just look pretty in a back yard. The book focuses primarily on some of the most famous historic plant hunters and their most daring or important hunts, but at the end it does point out that plant hunting continues today though some of the conditions have drastically changed.

Target Readers:

Adventure Story Fans, Spy Story Fans, Botany Enthusiasts, Curious Readers, Quick Nonfiction Read Fans, Reluctant Nonfiction Readers, Middle Grade Readers on up


The Poison Squad: One Chemist’s Single-Minded Crusade for Food Safety at the Turn of the Century by Deborah Blum

A history of food safety and purity and Mr. Wiley’s campaign to implement government standards to regulate what companies put into their “food” products. (A fictionalized Mr. Wiley actually makes an appearance in The Spice King.)

The overall history that this covers is fascinating. It is amazing anyone survived the last turn of the century with the abundance of contaminated food products! I don't envy Mr. Wiley's uphill battle to convince the US government to force companies to identify the products in their food on their labels, but I am grateful for his long, hard fought battle. But be warned, Blum covers this in exhaustive detail. 

Target Readers:

History Fans, Foodies, Science Read Fans, Nonfiction Readers, Readers Who Want ALL the Details, Biography Fans, Adult Readers