Tommysaurus Rex by Doug TenNapel

Tommysaurus Rex coverWhat if you discovered your very own pet dinosaur?

When Ely’s dog, Tommy, is accidentally killed in a car accident on his morning walk, Ely is overcome with grief. To help him deal with his loss, his parents send Ely to spend time at his grandpa’s over summer vacation. One day he sees a plastic T-Rex model and thinks, common sense aside, how cool it would be to have a pet T-Rex. He is soon in for a big surprise when he wanders into a cave — and meets a real T-Rex! But this is no ordinary dinosaur: he follows Ely around like a dog, and can do tricks like a dog, too. As they spend more time together, the bond between them grows stronger. Ely decides to name the dinosaur Tommy, and people flock to see the T-Rex. They even hold a show to raise money to help fund his care.

But not all are in support of Ely and his dinosaur. Randy, a local bully, can’t stand to let Ely get all the glory as the popular kid. No one can anticipate what happens next when he tries to take things into his own hands.

TenNapel’s graphic novels share an overarching sense of darkness, both in storyline and illustrations, but there are also strong themes of hope and family love. The number of kids and parents who have sought out his works at my library got me hooked, and I am glad of it. Tommysaurus Rex is anything but a light read: within a mere 137 pages, TenNapel addresses love, loss and bullying. I teared up more than once, but found the story’s resolution heartwarming.

Curious to find out more?

Take a look at other reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Review.

You can also read more about Tommysaurus Rex at Great Books for Kids and Teen, where you’ll also find links to TenNapel’s blog and website.

Jane, the Fox & Me written by Fanny Brit, illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault, and translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Jane, the Fox and Me coverHélène is struggling with a dreary school life of no friends, teasing and poor self-image. Her current strategy for respite is in reading Jane Eyre and reflecting upon how, despite the great adversity she faces as she grows up, Jane remains resilient to the things that unfold in her life.

Much to her dismay, Hélène learns that her class will be spending four days together at an isolated nature camp in the woods. It’s bad enough to have to deal with rejection and teasing during school hours. Having to spend time away from home is something that Hélène certainly is not looking forward to.

While it is somewhat helpful to escape in reading, she is still not immune to the her classmates’ bullying at camp. She bunks with the other “outcasts,” but can’t break the ice. Just when the bleakness is starting to feel all-encompassing, she experiences a moment of connection with a fox. She is inches away from petting it when one of her bunk mates spooks it away.

Hélène is about to give up on hope entirely when a friendly face, Géraldine, comes to join the outcasts’ tent. Géraldine’s friendship helps break the spell placed upon Hélène, and a bit of colour starts filling Hélène’s life as she starts to see her life in a different way.

Simply put, a beautiful book. Arsenault’s use of gray tones, colours and various fonts captures the feelings that are represented within the words. The experience  and feelings of “not quite fitting in” and being unhappy with oneself are well addressed. Moreover, the book shines positive light on the one parent family dynamic of Hélène, her two brothers and their mother.

Read other reviews of Jane, the Fox and Me from the New York Times and Publishers Weekly.

Another blogger’s review of the novel at edge of seventeen.

Combating Bullying

Bullying Canada

Stop A Bully : Safe and Anonymous

Pink Shirt Day

20 Innovative Ways Schools Are Combating Bullying BullyingPrevention.com

Kids can play active role in combating bullying among peers, experts say Macleans magazine

Cyberbullying MediaSmarts

Do you have anti-bullying tactics that are working for your school/organization? Please share in the comments!

Knights of the Lunch Table: The Dodgeball Chronicles by Frank Cammuso

Knights of the Lunch Table coverArtie King may be new to Camelot Middle School, but he’s already made friends, ticked off Joe and his Horde, and fulfilled a prophecy that sort of makes him king of the school. Artie’s locker assignment sticks him with the one locker on campus that no one has ever been able to open. In fact, a prophecy has grown up around it: whoever gets the locker door open will thereafter rule the school. In need of a place to leave his books, Artie gives the combination a try — and the door opens easily. When lord-of-the-hallways Joe fails to replicate the feat, Artie’s fame, and Joe’s hatred, are fixed.

Artie’s new friend Percy has the perfect solution: Joe’s Horde and Artie’s newly-christened Knights of the Lunch Table will play one game of dodgeball. Whoever wins the game, wins the throne (figuratively speaking). Artie’s a shoo-in — assuming he actually has amazing dodgeball skills everyone thinks he does. And if he doesn’t?

The Knights might be in more trouble than they thought.

This first graphic novel in Cammuso’s Knights of the Lunch Table series introduces an impressive collection of references to the King Arthur legends in an accessible, relevant, and entertaining story. Artie’s knights are awkward middle schoolers eager to play their part in their friend’s accidental challenge to Camelot’s social order. Gwen(evere) abandons the sidelines to claim her own place in the saga – I can’t wait to see more of her in later books! Mr. Merlyn is an odd-but-wise teacher always ready with a bit of advice. And of course there’s Artie’s Excalibur – er, locker – available only to him, and mysteriously stocked with just the right thing at just the right time. Let the adventures begin!

Find other reviews and learn more about the series as a whole at 100 Scope Notes, Guys Lit Wire, and Stacked.

Play Dodge-a-Rama on the Graphix website.

The Melancholic Mermaid written by Kallie George and illustrated by Abigail Halpin

The Melancholic Mermaid cover Simply ReadBoth Tony and Maude were born a little different. He has webbed fingers; she has two tails. The latter, at least, seems like a good thing at first. Double-tailed merfolk have a tendency to make history. Unfortunately, the extra speed and agility that allows them to do so also makes Maude unpopular with the other merchildren — she’s way too fast to be any fun for games and races. Tony, too, has trouble with the other kids, who tease him relentlessly.

Tony and Maude meet one another as fellow circus performers. Tony was turned over to the circus by his concerned and trusting parents, who hoped that the Ring Mistress was right when she told them Tony would be happier there. Maude was caught by a fisherman’s net, and sold to the circus for a mint. When neither act proves profitable, the Ring Mistress decides to recoup her losses by having the stage-frozen Tony train the despondent Maude. But Tony realises that he and Maude have a thing or two in common, and he devises a different plan entirely.

The Melancholic Mermaid is its own kind of different. There’s the story, which brings together imagined mermaid lore, bullying, show business, and adventure. There’s the format, which crosses picture book with chapter book. And there are the pictures, which are full of sea colours and personality and just…wonderful. Because of the length, the story would be a great choice for a more confident reader who still loves lots of pictures, or as a read-aloud for a mixed-age group. Make sure to read to the end – the epilogue is the best part!

Read several more reviews collected on the publisher’s website

Check out an interview with Kallie George and Abigail Halpin at Cynsations.

Ten: For Young Writers Part 3 — Stories about Young Writers

This last For Young Writers post leaves advice (mostly) behind in favour of story. The writers described in these stories may approach the task with eagerness or doubt, teacher expectations, or a deep need of their own to write. What they have in common is a growing understanding of the potential of their own words.

Once Upon an Ordinary School Day written by Colin McNaughton and illustrated by Satoshi Kitamura
On a perfectly ordinary, ho hum day, a new teacher arrives who challenges his students to open their imaginations to music and story. In bare handfuls of words, McNaughton captures a multitude of approaches to creativity, as well as the effects that creativity can have on those willing to give it a try. Continue reading

Beholding Bee by Kimberly Newton Fusco

Beholding Bee coverBee has been part of Ellis’s travelling show all her twelve years. Since her parents’ death, she and her unofficial guardian, Pauline, have been a team. Bee helps with the hot dog cart and looks for a home that will finally get the two of them off the road. Pauline keeps records of Bee’s life and fights to keep her — and her large, diamond-shaped birthmark — out of Ellis’s “Look See” exhibit. When Pauline gets involved with a newcomer, Ellis takes the opportunity to send her off to help start a satellite show that he hopes will boost flagging wartime profits. Feeling betrayed, and vulnerable to Ellis’s greed, Bee takes off, looking for a place to claim as home.

What she finds is the cozy little house of her dreams, inhabited by two old women who welcome her and settle her into the bedroom they’ve prepared. Mrs. Potter offers comfort; Mrs. Swift insists that Bee make something of herself, beginning with school. And here’s where the story really gets going. At school, where she’s placed in the “special” class to avoid teasing, Bee discovers the responsibility of friendship, the satisfaction of being expected to thrive, and the possibility that standing up to a bully may require as much compassion as it does bravery.

Though I wasn’t completely satisfied with the book as a whole, the complexity of the characters and the relationships between them is exceptional. Nearly every character with any significance in the novel has flaws and struggles of his or her own, and each is eventually shown to deserve at least a bit of sympathy. Beholding Bee would be a great choice for a group read, with lots of potential for discussion about friendship, bullying, home, and what it means to be a good teacher or parent.

Read other reviews from Fourth Musketeer, Beth Fish Reads and Kirkus.

The American Library Association’s Association for Library Services to Children recently included Beholding Bee in its list of nominees for Notable Children’s Books. Check out the rest of the list!

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

Wonder coverAugust Pullman looks different. Really different. Born with numerous facial abnormalities and in need of a string of surgeries in order to do simple things like eat, August has learned to ignore stares and gasps, secure in the support and protection of his family. Though he has been homeschooled so far, his parents decide that the first year of middle school might be a good time to consider trying out regular school. With the assurance that he can quit if he decides that he doesn’t like it, August agrees to begin grade five at Beecher Prep.

August’s experience at Beecher is presented as an extreme, but not a special, case. Several characters acknowledge that middle school is a difficult time for many. The emphasis of the novel is not so much on how August gets through the year, however, or even on how he grows in facing the challenges of middle school. Instead, the story demonstrates repeatedly that finding ways to help one another — through kindness, encouragement, friendship, and, yes, perhaps a well-timed tackle — is one of the best ways to get through any sort of difficulty.

Wonder is told through the eyes of several characters — August himself, his older sister, Olivia, and a couple of friends from each sibling’s school — offer new perspective on friendships, family relationships, and real and apparent betrayals. Though the tone of the novel is kept relatively light throughout, the narratives are genuine and full of understated insight, leaving readers to ponder the implications for themselves. While the ending felt too shiny and dreamlike to quite fit the rest of the novel, overall, Wonder is a rich and memorable story that explores people’s ability to be good to one another. Recommended especially for readers who enjoy character-driven stories.

Find out what The Guardian, The Telegraph, and Quinn’s Book Nook had to say about Wonder.

Read an interview with the author, or check out the first few chapters for yourself (click on the book cover)!