new fiction faves for new readers to teens…plus a give-away!

I’ve got seven great new reads today. I’ll list them in order of difficulty with some snappy early readers coming first and a Mystery Give-Away at the end!

Barkus, written by Patricia MacLachlan, illustrated by Marc Boutavant
published in 2017 by Chronicle Books
45 pages

Nicky has a new dog named Barkus. He’s an exuberant fellow who clearly loves to stay with his young owner At All Times.

At school. In the snow. In a tent. Barkus vigorously leads the way to unexpected, chaotic, and warmhearted adventures. This book marks the start of a series so catch it on the ground floor.

The reading level here is about the same as the Mr. Putter and Tabby books but it’s a bit longer and isn’t formatted in a standard Easy Reader size. In fact, my library shelves it with picture books. It’s just that sneaky. Marc Boutavant is well know for his neon-bright cartoon-style illustration work. The look of these pages is 100% sunny.

Fergus and Zeke, written by Kate Messner, illustrated by Heather Ross
published in 2017 by Candlewick Press
52 pages

Another new series starts here, with a classroom-pet mouse named Fergus who loves school, loves the kids in his class, and even loves following the rules!

But when the class heads to the Natural History Museum and Miss Maxwell says mice can’t come along — well, that’s a rule even Fergus is going to have to break. Dinosaurs? Shooting stars? Butterfly gardens? That’s way too much to miss out on.

Find out what comes of Fergus’s clandestine outing in this thoroughly enjoyable read marked with great personalities, a clever plot, and appealing illustrations. The more muted colors here make this a great choice for older beginning readers.

Captain Pug: The Dog who Sailed the Seas, written by Laura James, illustrated by Églantine Ceulemans
first published in Great Britain, 2016; U.S. edition 2017 by Bloomsbury Children’s Books
124 pages

Jolly adventure, a nice, satisfyingly-thick book crammed with energetic illustrations, and large-ish type make this a splashy step up from easy readers.

Pug lives with Lady Miranda (age about 6). He loves jam tarts, ice cream, sausage rolls, chicken drumsticks…you get the idea. A comfy life with plenty of food is the life for him.

Today, however, Lady Miranda is going on a paddleboat expedition and Pug is going along. Pug is fairly nervous around water, so when the time is right, he sneaks off to hunt for snacks instead and accidentally becomes trapped in a stranger’s picnic basket. A whole string of wild sea-faring adventures await Pug, with Lady Miranda in heroic pursuit, before the two of them land back home at No. 10, The Crescent. Excellent fun and again, it’s the start of a new series you won’t want to miss.

Heartwood Hotel: A True Home and Heartwood Hotel: The Greatest Gift
  written by Kallie George, illustrated by Stephanie Graegin

published in 2017 by Disney Hyperion
162 pages each

A miniature world populated by charming forest animals. A hotel-in-a-tree with root floor space for moles and voles, hibernation suites, branch floors for chipmunks, twig floors for birds. A kindly badger who hosts First Acorn Festivals, First Snow Festivals, and the wedding of the richest skunks in the forest! And one small mouse, Mona, who in a sudden storm is swept away from home and right into a new job as maid in the bustling hotel.

Are you hooked yet? If it sounds too sweet, add a pack of cruel, conniving wolves intent on gobbling up the hotel’s patrons, a bumbling bear, and a cloud of uncertainty over Mona’s future. That’ll spice things up!

These are wonderful stories that my girls especially would have adored at around age 8.  A bit of a tiny-animal-Downton-Abbey world with all the gossip and goings-on among the Heartwood staff, lots of charming description of acorn soufflés and moss carpets, a zephyr of kindness blowing through the entire story with just enough threats to keep the plot taut, and Stephanie Graegin’s impeccable, darling illustrations.

The vocabulary and style make these ideal for young-but-advanced readers. They could work for read-alouds for good listeners though there is more description and less action here. The next volume — a Spring story — is due out in February. Delightful for ages 6-10.

Family Game Night and Other Catastrophes, by Mary E. Lambert
published in 2017 by Scholastic Press
256 pages

Annabelle, age 12, has a secret, and she’s established some very important rules in order to guard it.

Like the Five Mile Radius Rule: All friends must stay at least five miles away from her house at all times. And the No Nonessentials in the Bedroom Rule: Anything that hasn’t been used in the past seven days must leave the room. Boom. No exceptions.

The reason Annabelle has created these rules is straight-up survival, prevention of humiliation being absolutely essential to a 12-year-old’s well-being. Even more, staving off suffocation-by-toppling-piles-of-garbage is Survival 101… when your mom is a hoarder.

Annabelle’s life is peppered by competing challenges. She wants to protect her little sister yet appear normal to friends. She has to manage the coinciding thrill (He likes me!) and panic (He cannot come near this house!) of a new crush. Then there’s the growing disquiet over her dad’s and brother’s habits of distancing themselves from their dysfunctional home. When you juggle too many balls, what happens? Yes, it all crashes down in one grand disaster for Annabelle. Talk about a bad day.

When everyone you care about suddenly sees the ugliness inside of you, when the veneer of normalcy cracks and your shame is exposed, when adults you are counting on let you down majorly…what then?

I very much enjoyed Annabelle’s story. It’s such an unusual topic for a middle-grade novel, yet the sense of shame and lack of control over a parent’s dysfunction translates to a number of other situations and Lambert nails that turmoil. Annabelle’s growth stems from both external factors — a grandmother who steps into the chaos — and internal resources as she wrestles through a host of responses to her predicament and finds a way forward in honesty, coming to terms with what can change and what cannot change in her life.

No tidy endings here. But hope and a way forward. I recommend it for ages 11 and up.

And here’s the give-away!!

The Mystery of the Painted Dragon, by Katherine Woodfine
first American edition 2017 by Kane Miller
333 pages

This is the third in this breezy series following amateur detectives Sophie and Lil in their Edwardian world of London.

In this episode, an art show at the glittering Sinclair’s Department Store results in the theft of a priceless painting belonging to the King himself! Sophie and Lil band together with their old accomplices, Billy and Joe, and some new friends to uncover the villains in an adventure brimming with peril!

I’ve given away the first two books in this series previously, and thanks to the generosity of Kane Miller, I’ve got this third volume to give away today. If you haven’t read the earlier books, you’ll definitely be at a disadvantage starting at this point, but not completely lost as the mystery itself is self-contained. It’s a great choice for voracious readers ages 10 and up.

Here’s a link where you can purchase the other volumes if you’re interested. New copies are not for sale on Amazon. Meanwhile, leave a comment on today’s blog telling us what you’d most like for afternoon tea — a circumstance that often arises in these delightful mysteries! — and I’ll draw a winner a week from today. U.S. postal addresses only, please.