Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann & Lily Williams

Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann & Lily Williams
Publisher: First Second
Genre: Middle Grade, YA, Contemporary, Graphic Novel
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Nymphaea

Good friends help you go with the flow.
Best friends help you start a revolution.

Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are fed up. Hazelton High never has enough tampons. Or pads. Or adults who will listen.

Sick of an administration that puts football before female health, the girls confront a world that shrugs―or worse, squirms―at the thought of a menstruation revolution. They band together to make a change. It’s no easy task, especially while grappling with everything from crushes to trig to JV track but they have each other’s backs. That is, until one of the girls goes rogue, testing the limits of their friendship and pushing the friends to question the power of their own voices.

Now they must learn to work together to raise each other up. But how to you stand your ground while raising bloody hell?

A guide to periods, but with friends and not a manual? I’m in.

I wish I’d have had this book when I was the age that I got my period. While I got the cursory explanation at school, this would’ve been a lot more helpful. Periods are normal. They’re something menstruating people deal with. It’s scary when periods show up the first time, but it shouldn’t be. This book helps get rid of the stigma.

Sasha is a younger student at the high school and one day she gets her period. Some make fun of her, but a few girls take her in, help her out and help her feel normal. It’s a common thing that happens at schools all over the place. Abby, one of the friends, realizes there are issues with getting period products at school. There is a bit of a political bend to this story, but it’s not so much to take away from the story. It showcases that there are issues some deal with and others won’t ever understand.

I liked this story of friendship, finding a place to belong, finding a cause and standing up for one’s self. It’s a cute tale and does take the stigma out of getting your period. If you’re looking for another way to talk about this topic, then this might be the right book for you.

Loukas and the Game of Chance by Anthony L. Manna

Loukas and the Game of Chance by Anthony L. Manna
Publisher: Mascot Books
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Historical
Rating: 5 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

While Loukas is playing his flute at the seawall one day, he befriends a mysterious talking, dancing snake that rewards him with fortune and favor. Some years later, tempted by greed and pride, Loukas loses all his riches and his family. He must now set off on a treacherous journey through a frightening forest filled with suspense and strange creatures to find Destiny, her son Ilion, the Sun, and her daughter Luna, the Moon. These celestial guardians will surely allow him to reverse his misfortune, restore his honor, and win back all that he loves and treasures, won’t they?

A reimagined Greek folktale, Loukas and the Game of Chance is illuminated with dramatic and evocative pen and ink drawings that provide an ideal backdrop for the dark intrigue that fills this haunting story of human struggle, courage, and resilience.

Everyone deserves a second chance.

It’s tricky to describe Loukas in a few sentences. He was a talented musician who was deeply loyal to and generous with his friends and relatives. With that being said, he also had moments of selfishness, greediness, and thoughtlessness just like many folks do sometimes. I had a wonderful time peeling back the various layers of his personality and figuring out how all of them were connected. He felt so three dimensional to me that I could have easily accepted the idea of him being based on a real person.

My favorite scenes were the ones that explored what true repentance and forgiveness mean. When someone makes a terrible mistake that harms others, the damage can’t be undone with a simple apology. Instead, Loukas needed to demonstrate that he regretted his actions and was going to make things right again. I found myself smiling and nodding along as he searched for ways to repair everything he’d destroyed.

Folklore appeals to me because of how often first impressions can be deceiving in this type of storytelling and how many lessons it can teach us about being what it means to be a good person. For example, not every powerful character is necessarily trustworthy, and wealth is only as good as how it is used. I enjoyed getting to know the characters in this story and seeing how they treated one another. As much as I want to gush more about this topic, it’s best for other readers to discover everything for themselves.

I should also mention that the author’s note at the end provided some helpful backstory for readers who aren’t familiar with the Greek legends this story was based on or who want to read more about this topic. It does contain spoilers, though, so keep that in mind when deciding when to read it!

Loukas and the Game of Chance was perfect.

Bats, Bandits, and Buggies by Nancy Oswald

Bats, Bandits, and Buggies by Nancy Oswald
Publisher: Burro Books
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.) Historical, Fiction, YA
Rating: 5 stars
Review by Snowdrop

Bat, Bandits & Buggies is the fourth book in the Ruby and Maude Adventure Series. These books can be read in any order.

In Colorado Springs, the summer of 1898, thirteen-year-old, Ruby is bored, bored, bored. What starts out as a plan to train her donkey, Maude, to pull a buggy, ends up in a prickly business deal with her friend Roy, who has run away from Cripple Creek to escape his misery of working in the mines.

Roy lives with his peculiar Aunt Agnes, the caretaker of a mansion where things go bump in the night. Ruby suspects his aunt is involved with two bandits who dress in black and appear and disappear without a trace.

After eavesdropping on a mysterious couple, Ruby is terrified Roy may be the bandits’ next target. Her suspicions come true when the gun-brandishing bandits capture her and Roy.

Will the two escape? Is there a connection between the bandits, Aunt Agnes, and the mansion? What other surprises await Ruby and Roy in their seemingly sleepy little town? Find out in Bats, Bandits, & Buggies.

While I am not of this reading age anymore (9 to 12), who could possibly ignore a book with this title? Regardless of age, I had a blast. Set in the late 1800’s, this middle grade children’s historical fiction story would be a quick and fun read for anyone. Ruby and Roy with her donkey Maude, decide to run from bad personal situations and end up right in the middle of a mystery. In some ways, out of the fire and into the pot, a possible very dangerous place to be.

What a neat change in genre this is. It’s almost a cozy mystery for middle grade readers. I love the historical fiction setting. This is clearly written and very easy to follow, but it sure never lets up on suspense.

Of course, it’s biggest draw is what I mentioned previously. Who can resist two kids, a donkey, some bandits, and a mystery?

Bats, Bandits, and Buggies is Book 4 in a series titled “Ruby and Maude Adventure”. Check it out.

Born to be Naughty by Hina Nauman

Born to be Naughty by Hina Nauman
Hanna the Guardian of Nature Book 1
Publisher: Self-Published
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Contemporary
Rating: 4 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

How naughty can one child be? Did you ever put lizards in the food to end some boring adult party or did you ever wear a secret ink ring to mess with kids who annoy you, did you ever had this motto :

If someone gives you pee to drink, simply give them a potty to eat.

Imagine a kid like this.

And then imagine a kid like this makes her naughtiness double with a perfect addition of a best friend forever in her life.

If you have imagined all this, then it’s time to meet Hanna from the series Hanna the Guardian of nature. Hanna’s mischievous spirit is about to press her to one of her most daring thrills in these summer vacations.

Don’t confuse your head with Guardian and naughtiness going hand in hand. Simply read the book and let the confusion rest in peace.

Getting into trouble is easy when the adults aren’t paying attention!

Hanna was such an amusing main character. I adored her spirited personality, limitless energy, silly sense of humor, and cleverness. She was the sort of kid who made everything exciting and unpredictable. I could never guess what sort of mischief she was going to get into next or how the adults in her life would react to her hijinks! There was a lot of room left here for character growth, and that’s something I always like to see in the beginning of a new series. Hopefully, future sequels will spend more time exploring her personality and showing how she will change as she grows up.

It would have been helpful to have a tighter storyline in this book. The narrator often wandered off into tangents about Hanna’s early life, explanations of why Allah created so many different skin colors for people, or other topics. As interesting as they were to read, they were also a distraction from what was currently going on in her life. This was the only thing holding me back from giving a full five-star rating.

The relationship between Hanna and her parents made me smile. They were loving and accepting of her no matter what was going on in any of their lives. This isn’t always an easy thing for grownups to do when looking after an intelligent and hyperactive child, so it was nice to see her surrounded by understanding people who knew the difference between misbehavior and exuberance.

Born to be Naughty (Hanna the Guardian of Nature Book 1) was a funny and heartwarming read.

Hornet vs. Wasp by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster

Hornet vs. Wasp by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary, non-fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts two ferocious insects. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling pair before finally discovering the winner!

This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

Yeah, this one wasn’t what I was anticipating, nor did I expect to learn a bunch of new facts about hornets and wasps – don’t call them bees. I know quite a bit about honeybees due to family interests, but I could never get it straight on the differences between a wasp and hornet. With the facts and trivia provided by Mr. Pallotta, and the clear and vivid illustrations by Mr. Bolster, I have a much firmer understanding. Since this short story is a book geared towards 6-9 yr.-olds, I’m pretty sure kids get the picture and will probably retain the information far better because of the delivery.

This little book doesn’t confine itself to the insect world per se. The author shows how wasps have inspired humans in all sorts of unexpected ways, both whimsical and practical. Until it was explained in a condensed and focused presentation, I was clueless. Kids have an incredible resource with the Who Would Win? Series. Parents will be as fascinated as their kids as they share this reading adventure into the hows and whys of hornets and wasps.

The author was thorough in his research, from nests, to food, to air battles, to the difference in stingers – I didn’t know that! – and how they compare with other insects that we see every day. The author even shared his misadventures with the stinging critters. The climax of the story is the battle between hornet and wasp. Who won? You’ll have to check it out.

My head is a buzz with all I learned, and I’m an adult! I am glad there are books like this out there. It’s just the right number of pages, information and visual stimulation in a well-presented format for young kids with maturing attention spans. Whether you use the print book or an eBook, the colors and illustrations pop. This is a must read. I mean, who hasn’t seen a bee/hornet/wasp by the age of 6, right? Hornet vs. Wasp has information that’s a must for inquisitive kids. Yes, bees are furry, but hornets and wasps can actually bite! I didn’t know that!

Ultimate Jungle Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster

Ultimate Jungle Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Contemporary, Non-Fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sixteen different jungle animals battle it out in an epic fight! Who will be the champion?

This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts 16 ferocious jungle creatures. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling animals before finally discovering the winner! This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

You’re never too old to learn, or to enjoy reading to your kids only to find out you’re just as fascinated as they are. I mean, I’ve watched enough National Geographic over the years to be aware of some of the facts in this story/picture book, but there were quite a few I had no idea about. My eyes bugged a few times, as in, “I didn’t know that!!!”, throw in a couple of “Whoa!” and “Yikes” and I can safely say that I am impressed with Ultimate Jungle Rumble.

Once again there are 16 unlikely combatants that are thrown together to see which of their natural protections and instinctual behaviors put them on the top of the jungle kingdom. My favorite was during round one with a gorilla. I’m not sure how 7-yr. olds would respond, it’s been a while, but mentally, I totally cheered and gave a thumbs up to a very effective strategy. Yeah, I could get behind that one. Then there was the defense technique of a capybara. Okay, that one got a snort and a chortle out of me. The illustration from Mr. Bolster that accompanied that battle ending might prod a giggle or two from the younger reading set for sure. I mean, I’m looking at it as I type this and I’m snickering. I showed the illustration to my eldest and my husband and they both gave it a chuckle and grin.

The green anaconda was a creepy contender. I don’t know what age Ophidiophobia starts in humans or why, but just in case – parents – there be snakes.

Accompanying the great illustrations are many amazing facts and trivia provided by Mr. Pallotta. From how many types of bears there are in the whole world – I didn’t know that – to the difference between horns and antlers, which I seem to remember but am admittedly foggy on, well, that was until I read this book, and why a sun bear is called a sun bear. I remember seeing a documentary about the sun bears and they and humans don’t get along so well. This little book gave me information about sun bears that the ‘adult’ show did not. Very cool.

How it ends and which jungle animal ends up being king was what I hoped for, but it was a close one! Then again, I watch a lot of those sci-fi monster movies so you might say I’m a bit biased. I can see why this series is so beloved and popular. It’s fun while learning cool facts about the animals we share the planet with, and if parents haven’t tried this book or this series with their kids, I recommend giving it a look-see. My youngest gave it a thumbs-up, I suspect yours will too.

Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster

Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble by Jerry Pallotta, Illustrated by Rob Bolster
Who Would Win? series
Publisher: Scholastic, Inc.
Genre: Historical, Non-Fiction, Children’s (0 – 6 y.o.), Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.)
Rating: 4 stars
Reviewed by Xeranthemum

Sixteen different dinosaurs battle it out in an epic prehistoric fight! Who will be the champion?
This nonfiction reader compares and contrasts 16 ferocious dinosaurs. Readers will learn about each animal’s anatomy, behavior, and more. Then compare and contrast the battling animals before finally discovering the winner! This nonfiction series is full of facts, photos, and realistic illustrations, and it includes a range of mammals, sea creatures, insects, and dinosaurs to satisfy all kinds of animal fans.

I adored dinosaurs while growing up but exciting books about them were few and far between. I wish they had the Who Would Win? Series back then. I would have been learning a lot more while having fun.

This picture book had awesome illustrations and the battle wounds for the losing dinosaurs in the matches were tastefully done. It shows where the winner bites to defeat its opponent but there’s nothing gory or worrisome for parents. Some kids might find it really cool. It’s not always the teeth that gives consistent advantage, there were some surprises.

The picture book has the names of the contestants, has fun facts about the meaning of a particular dinosaur’s name, and lists the attributes of each dinosaur that nature gave them to defend themselves. A reader will start with 16 dinosaurs, but there will only be 1 winner. Who will it be?

Now, for parents who might read this book with their kids, which would be a good idea if only to help them out with pronunciations, I would like to share that there is one battle that caught me by surprise. I blurted out a very loud, HA! As in, laugh out loud funny. If you were a fan of the early years of Saturday Night Live, this scene might bring back memories. I showed that dinosaur battle with my not-so-young-anymore son who had never seen SNL and even he thought it was hilarious and in turn said, “You gotta show dad!”.

All in all, this was a delightful read that was brought to life with wonderful illustrations by Mr. Bolster, coupled with facts, like one dinosaur has feet like a chicken, and great battle descriptions by Mr. Pallotta. The most interesting thing for me was that the winner wasn’t the dinosaur I expected.

Even though the range for this book is ages 6-9, and this book is labeled as non-fiction, I think the battles portrayed are wonderful and pure, storytelling at its finest. It uses fiction to make the non-fiction interesting, engaging and entertaining. Could those battles have actually taken place, and used the fighting techniques described therein? Quite probably, but we’ll never really know, will we.

I think this is a wonderful book and I do believe both parents and kids will enjoy watching (reading) The Ultimate Dinosaur Rumble.

The New Enchantress by Sunayna Prasad

The New Enchantress by Sunayna Prasad
Publisher: Self Published
Genre: Middle Grade, Fantasy
Rated: 4 stars
Review by Poppy

Cursed by a sorcerer’s hex, Alyssa McCarthy finds herself in a fight she can’t afford to lose, or everything she knows will be lost!
After she finishes her final year of junior high, fourteen-year-old Alyssa faces an uncertain future in more ways than one when a sorcerer casts a hex that leaves her with involuntary magical powers that are too dangerous to remove.

Unable to control her newly gained abilities Alyssa’s end-of-middle-school sleepover ends in disaster when she knocks her friends unconscious when her powers go out of control. If Alyssa can’t learn to master her magic soon, she will be cursed to forget her loved ones and serve as the warlock’s slave for all of eternity.

Her only hope is to focus on controlling her emotions if she is to break the curse. However, the difficulties of adolescence, along with the perils and growing disasters she faces, make Alyssa struggle even more. From putting her friends’ lives at risk to losing their trust, she continues to fear what will become of her if she fails.

Will Alyssa be able to break the hex and become the enchantress that she was meant to be, or will she become enslaved to the sorcerer forever?

A cute middle grade fantasy of sorts that I enjoyed. I say “of sorts” because it takes place in our world, but … there’s magic. Didn’t we all dream of having magic powers as a kid? I know I did. This book shows what might occur if that actually happened.

Alyssa is a typical tween, worried about her grades, hanging out with friends, except right at the starts of the book while she’s trying to raise her grades with a special project, magic inserts itself into the story. And so the crazy ride begins.

Alyssa is believable as a character. She isn’t perfect, she has flaws that you’d expect from a girl her age. There are squabbles with friends, doubts and worries. I liked her. The world-building is good, too, and I can see how this would appeal to the target middle grade audience.

I only had a few quibbles. First, I’m not the target audience, and so there were things that happened that were meant to be a surprise that I could see coming. And, sometimes the mom in me wanted to take hold of the kids and give them a good shake. Also, this book is the third in a series and there were times I felt a little lost. I imagine the whole experience would be richer if you started with book one.

Still, this was a good read. It had a solid plot, believable characters, decent world-building and you understood Alyssa’s motivation throughout. As a reader and reviewer, I certainly can’t complain about that!

Death at Dusbar College by Laura DiNovis Berry

Death at Dusbar College by Laura DiNovis Berry
Publisher: Indies United Publishing House
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), Sci-Fi/Fantasy, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Welcome to the world of Antyfas where invisible monkeys play and dragons fly! Cristiano has just turned eleven, and his aunt has invited him to visit her at the magical Dusbar College. Wondrous acts of magic and fantastical beasts await him, but can he solve the Grand Magician’s riddle?

What could be better than visiting a magical college?

Some of the best scenes were the ones that showed how Cristiano tried to figure out the mystery that everyone else was also trying to solve. There was a riddle attached to it that was the key to everything. I grinned as he worked through the possible answers to the riddle and hoped he’d be the one to come up with the right answer and win the prize at the end.

I would have liked to see more conflict included in this novella. As fascinated as I was by the world building, there wasn’t much going on with the storyline itself other than the mystery that was soon cleared up. There was so much more the author could have done with these characters and this setting. If she writes a sequel, I hope she’ll give her characters more complex problems to solve as the writing itself was wonderful.

The magic in this universe was delightful. My favorite examples of it were the ones that explained how to do ordinary things like summon a fresh glass of apple juice or tailor a shirt to fit perfectly onto the person wearing it. They weren’t the sort of experiences that I’d ever think of trying to make interesting if I had magical powers, so I was thrilled by how the narrator turned those moments into something unforgettable.

Death at Dusbar College was a playful middle grade mystery that I’d recommend to anyone who also loves modern fantasy.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – A Modern Graphic Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – A Modern Graphic Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Genre: Middle Grade (8 – 12 y.o.), LGBTQ, Contemporary
Rating: 3 Stars
Reviewed by Astilbe

Little Women with a twist: four sisters from a blended family experience the challenges and triumphs of life in NYC in this beautiful full-color graphic novel perfect for fans of Roller Girl and Smile.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are having a really tough year: with their father serving in the military overseas, they must work overtime to make ends meet…and each girl is struggling in her own way. Whether it’s school woes, health issues, boy troubles, or simply feeling lost, the March sisters all need the same thing: support from each other. Only by coming together–and sharing lots of laughs and tears–will these four young women find the courage to discover who they truly are as individuals…and as a family.

Meg is the eldest March, and she has a taste for the finer things in life. She dreams of marrying rich, enjoying fabulous clothes and parties, and leaving her five-floor walk-up apartment behind.

Jo pushes her siblings to be true to themselves, yet feels like no one will accept her for who she truly is. Her passion for writing gives her an outlet to feel worthy in the eyes of her friends and family.

Beth is the shy sister with a voice begging to be heard. But with a guitar in hand, she finds a courage that inspires her siblings to seize the day and not take life for granted.

Amy may be the baby of the family, but she has the biggest personality. Though she loves to fight with her sisters, her tough exterior protects a vulnerable heart that worries about her family’s future.

There is nothing this family can’t handle if they stick together.

Mr. Terciero did an excellent job of updating this classic tale for the twenty-first century. He struck the perfect balance between satisfying the expectations of readers like me who are lifelong fans of the original while also keeping the storyline accessible to people who may know nothing at all about these characters yet. I was especially impressed with how he handled issues like Robert March being away at war and the serious health problem that one of the characters was diagnosed with. He made these plot twists feel modern and fresh while still remaining loyal to L.M. Montgomery’s storytelling.

I wish this graphic novel had spent more time on character development. In the first Little Women, all four sisters had clear character arcs that gave them ample opportunities to show how they slowly changed for the better. While there were signs of similar personal growth in this retelling, it was sometimes hard to follow those plotlines because of how much less space they had to work with. For example, Meg made a major revision to her life goals that was announced so suddenly to the audience I briefly wondered if I’d missed something earlier. These sorts of things happened often enough that they did negatively affect the rating even though I wanted to choose a higher one.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones that explored the relationships between Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The story eventually explained the origins of their multiracial family for anyone who might be curious about that, but the opening scene was all I needed to know that these four sisters were as loving, playful, accepting, and occasionally irritated with each other as ever. It was delightful to see how they handled the ordinary disagreements that all siblings have as well as to get a peek at how they made up after an argument. This was exactly the sort of wholesome content I was hoping for.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – A Modern Graphic Retelling of Little Women made me smile.