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Sunday, December 19, 2021

New titles from CYBILS reading

Reading for the first round of the CYBILS award is one of my favorite things to do.  Imagine, binging on your favorite kind of literature and I do mean binging.  We've read and evaluated over 100 middle grade chapter books since October.  Some days, I feel a bit overstuffed (I'm not going to lie, not all of them are wonderful) but there are some that are SO good...  

My latest favorite is called the Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu.  Anne Ursu is a terrific author and I’ve loved some of her other books, like The Real Boy and The Lost Girl . She writes such interesting characters and this one is no exception.  It’s about Marya, who lives with her family in a different time and place.  It feels kind of like a fairy tale time where there are sorcerers that protect the villagers from evil.  Marya feels unvalued and put upon.  Her older brother, Lucas, has been been groomed from the time he was small to a sorcerer.  A sorcerer is a position of honor and power and once he becomes a sorcerer, Maria and her parents will be well taken care of with a fancy house, but Marya will essentially be a servant to her brother.  Marya doesn’t think this sounds like such a sweet deal, although her parents seem to think this would be a big upgrade from their current circumstances.  Marya and her brother have been torturing each other with a series of escalating pranks, with any consequences from their parents falling on Marya, so Marya spends a lot of time at their neighbors.  The neighbor’s wife is a weaver and she has two little boys.  Marya comes to watch and play with the boys, so it’s a break for everyone.  The weaver teaches Marya to read even though her parents believe this is unnecessary.  Then comes the day of Lucas’s evaluation by the sorcerers. A prank goes awry,   Lucas is not chosen as sorcerer and everyone seems to think it’s Marya’s fault.  Then, a letter comes informing the family that Marya is going to go to the Dragomir School for Troubled Girls.  No one has ever heard of such a place and attendance is mandatory and Marya will be picked up the following day.  She doesn’t need to bring any special things with her, but brings a quilt that belonged to her baby brother who died and an apron woven by her neighbor that has some protection spells woven into the pattern.  The weaver explains that some of the patterns are a kind of a code and suggests to her that the stories powerful people tell are often meant to serve themselves or others rather than being facts.  At school, Marya finds girls like herself who are struggling to find their way, some of them from families of great power.  The rules are strict and strictly enforced.  Marya finds herself curious about the school and why it was founded.  As she digs into more research, some of the other girls are curious as well and they all end up in trouble.  This is a terrifically suspenseful story.  Marya was an easy character to identify with and her combination of innocence and determination made me want to read more.  The story moved a long at good pace, but what I really loved was this overlay of a message of responsibility - it’s the responsibility of consumers of media to ask hard questions and not just accept a message at face value.  It’s the responsibility of readers to ask who a story serves rather than just enjoying the story.  In today’s increasingly polarized political landscape, that kind of questioning is exactly what young readers need to do.  Anne Ursu is a genius for placing a message like this in such a highly relatable and entertaining story.  

Here's the gorgeous compelling cover.

And here's Colby Sharp's take on it!

The other one that I can't stop talking about is called The Last Cuentista by Donna Barba Higuera.  She has written books like Lupe Wong Won't Dance and a picture book called El Cucuy is Scared Too.  This one is pretty different-it's dystopian fiction with a side of science fiction.  It's about Petra, who is 12.  She lives with her parents and her younger brother.  Her grandmother is a big part of her life.  Her grandmother is a story teller and Petra would like to be a storyteller too, but sometimes the storytelling doesn't go very well.  Her parents are scientists and they would like her to be a scientist.  There is a bit of pressure about choosing at 12 because there is an asteroid heading for earth that will destroy life as we know it.  Several space ships are preparing to leave the earth and Petra's family will be on one of the spaceships.  The journey to the new planet is long (380 years!) so the family will be in suspended animation.  Caretakers will monitor their life functions and be replaced by others along the way and new information can be downloaded into their brains, so Petra plans to learn botany and geology but also literature.  The process of going to sleep doesn't work quite the way it was described and Petra is aware of things going on around her (OMG, this was terrifying to me!) but unable to communicate.  She realizes that her caretaker is downloading some of the world's greatest literature into her brain and later, that he is being taken away from her forcibly.  The message to her brain changes and instead of world literature, there is a single line-an identifying code and a pledge of allegiance to the new order.  So when she's woken up, things are different.  Her parents and brother are not there.  There are people that she saw as they were entering the space ship, but they are very different.  There are people who were born on the space ship and they are also very different.  It turns out that a group has taken over the ship that believe that art and literature are dangerous and cause conflict.  They are willing to do whatever it takes to get rid of conflict.  This story is beautifully written with wonderful references to amazing world literature, with a strong emphasis on Petra's own Mexican American heritage.  Middle grade teachers are going to have a great time talking about the text references and maybe taking a deep dive into some of those.  But the kids are going to love thinking about what would it look like in space?  What would it be like to have to been in suspended animation?  What kinds of things would you want to take with you?  What would you leave behind?  What would you have to leave behind unwillingly?  I haven't been able to stop thinking about it.  Petra's courage and persistence are remarkable and I think this story is going to impact a lot of kids.  At least I hope so!  Don't miss this one.  

Check out this gorgeous cover! 

Saturday, November 6, 2021

Cultural magical mysteries for middle graders

 If you don't read a lot of middle grade fiction, you might not know that cultural magical mysteries are kind of a thing right now.  Rick Riordan started it with Greek myths and the Lightning Thief before moving into Roman myths, Norse Myths, Egyptian myths and thanks to his new publishing imprint, Rick Riordan Presents, we've been treated to Indian Myths from Roshani Choskhi with Aru Shah, Mayan folklore with J C Cervantes and the Storm Runner series,  Korean folklore from Yoon Ha Lee and the Dragon Pearl series, African American folklore from Kwame Mbalia and his hero-Tristan Strong, Cuban culture with Carlos Hernandez and his hilarious adventures with Sal and Gabi,  as well as Native American folklore from Rebecca Roanhorse and her series, Race to the Sun.  It's enough to leave you breathless!  AND it turns out that other authors are also able to bring out their cultural influences to tell completely amazing stories.  So here are two that I really liked.

The first one I finished this morning, when I fully intended to sleep late but woke up at 4 am with a bad case of monkey mind (you know that one-your mind hops around from idea to completely unrelated idea torturing you with all the things you SHOULD have done).  The good news was that I had this terrific book to read!  It's called The Girl Giant and the Monkey King by Van Hoang.  It's about Thom, a girl who just moved from California to a small town in Georgia and she is really struggling.  She loves to play soccer but it turns out that she's freakishly strong.  She accidentally kicks a ball toward the goal and injures the goalie so badly the girl has to be hospitalized.  Thom's Vietnamese immigrant mom is always trying to make her be more Vietnamese by eating stinky Vietnamese food and wearing Vietnamese clothing.  The other girls on the team bully Thom and Thom keeps thinking that if they just moved back to California, things would be great.  After an argument, Thom's mother takes her to the local Buddhist temple and Thom finds a funny golden pin, which she puts in her pocket and forgets about, until she gets home and a handsome monkey boy is in her bedroom.  It turns out he's the Monkey King who has been hidden in a mountain for the last 500 years because he wanted to become a god (instead of a demon).  He tells Thom that he can teach her how to control her powers and together they can become very powerful.  This is a really fun story to read.  Hoang does an amazing job of showing how difficult it is to straddle two cultures (in this case, Vietnamese culture and American culture).  Thom's frustration with both cultures is crystal clear and her deep longing to be accepted and appreciated comes through loud and clear.  The cultural elements are fleshed out enough that even someone (like me) that has no background information about Vietnamese culture can understand and appreciate the story line that weaves through the folklore.  The adventure is fast paced and although the story line wasn't completely resolved, I'm really looking forward to the next book!

The second one is called Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna.  It's about Kiki who is of Indian descent and lives with her mom in London.  Kiki struggles with anxiety to a point that it's starting to interfere with her life-in the opening of the book, she cuts short a trip with friends to a local amusement park because she can't remember if she left the front door unlocked and she's so worried that something might happen to her mother, that she decides to go home.  She finds that drawing helps ease her anxiety or at least give her something else to think about, so she spends her time drawing an elaborate alternate world where she is in control.  At least she feels in control until her desk bursts into flames and she's pulled into the world by her alter ego-Ashwini.  It turns out an evil demon has co-opted her world and if she doesn't kill him, her entire creation plus the normal world will be destroyed.  No pressure really!  Kiki has struggles to make sense of all this, plus come up with a plan for how to destroy an evil demon.  It's exciting and surprising and remarkably empathetic.  The piece about Kiki's anxiety is really interesting -almost like Neal Shusterman's book "Challenger Deep" where you wonder if this is just Kiki's way of working through this terrible anxiety by creating this fantasy world, or if it's just a fantasy story.  I really liked this one and it's action packed enough to keep the kids entertained.  I can't wait to put it in my library. 

Here's a book trailer.

And here's the cover image.

Sunday, October 24, 2021

Ghost stories

 I am not a super big fan of ghost stories.  I like historical fiction.  I like magical realism.  I don't like scary things.  I don't like monsters.  So ghosts do not typically figure prominently into the books I read.  Until the CYBILS award period, where I read virtually all of the fantasy or speculative fiction that has been published in the current year.  It turns out that other people DO like to read about ghosts and scary things so I read along.  It's super fun but it can be a bit daunting to see a TBR pile that stretches all over the house.  Or when someone asks you when you leave the library "Are there any books left?".  Then you channel your inner Dory ("just keep swimming, swimming, swimming").    So here are two I really liked.

The first one I finished this morning and I'd had my eye on it for awhile, because it's written by a favorite author-RJ Palacio.  You might remember her first book that had some critical and fan acclaim "Wonder"?  One of my favorite books, ever!  Anyway, I was excited to get this new one and was a little surprised to find it so different from Wonder (in a good way).  This one is historical fiction.  It's dotted with old photographs of men and it's told from a 12 year old's perspective.  Silas Bird has had an unusual life up to the point of the start of the book.  His mother died in childbirth (but he can remember her clearly).  He lives with his kind, brilliant father, who makes his living making boots but also experiments with the beginnings of photography.  Silas was struck by lighting as a five year old and has a mark on his back like branching tree.  Silas does not attend school because his best friend is a ghost named Mittenwool.  One night, Mittenwool warns Silas that some armed men are approaching the house.  The men tell his dad that they are both meant to come with them to meet another man who would like some help with a project.   They make it clear that there isn't really a choice in the matter but Silas's dad insists that Silas stay at home and that he will be back with in the week.  The men ride off but Silas feels compelled to follow them and when the horse that they brought for Silas to ride, a horse with a wide white head, turns up at the house, Silas takes it as a sign to follow.  What comes next is an epic adventure, with surprising plot twists and big themes of love and the afterlife and it would be a shame for me to spoil it by telling you any more!  This would be a wonderful story to read with a book club to talk about connections and the afterlife and maybe even about how we judge people from first impressions.  I liked it a lot but I think it's meant for kids bigger than mine, probably middle school and up because I don't think the younger kids have enough life experiences for some of it to make sense.  A wonderful, well written tale nonetheless.  

Here's the cover.

And here's the book trailer

The second one is called Ghost Girl.  It's written by Allie Malinenko and it's her debut novel.  It's about Zee who lives in a small town in the mountains where things are typically pretty quiet.  In fact, at the opening of the book, Zee is absolutely delighted that there is a terrible storm because it's so different from the usual weather.  Zee's mom died a while back and they miss her terribly.  Her dad has gone away to look for work, so it's just Zee and her sister to take care of things.  Her big sister Abby is trying to finish high school and works at the local diner.  Zee has one good friend, Elijah, who lives close by but Elijah is struggling a bit too-his mom has been sick and his dad wants him to be a big sports hero, but Elijah just isn't into it.  Zee's class goes on a field trip to a local library and she meets Paul, who is nice, but seems out of place (his accent and his clothes seem strange).  It turns out Paul is a ghost who lives in the library and that earns Zee her new nickname-Ghost Girl.  But things get really weird when people start disappearing, including the principal from Zee's school.  The new principal, Principal Scratch, immediately rubs Zee the wrong way, but everyone else seems to love him.  Zee feels like she alone can get things back to normal.  This is a really fun story to read-it's exciting,  most of the characters feel like people you would know and maybe want to be friends with (ok, really NOT Scratch).  It has big themes of friendship, dealing with loss, and the connection between people who love one another deeply and what that might look like after death.  I really liked this one and I think the kids at my school would like it too.  

Sunday, September 26, 2021

An Animal's Point of View

 Did you ever hit kind of a low spot while you're reading?  Uninspiring books?  Books you don't care if you finish?  Characters that don't seem like anyone you know?  Well, let me tell you, these books will shake you out of that slump and FAST.  Wait till you hear...

The first one is called Once Upon a Camel by Kathi Appelt.  She's written a number of children's books that you've probably loved like Once Upon a Fox or The True Blue Scouts of the Sugar Man Swamp.  This new one, Once Upon a Camel?  SO AWESOME.  Let me tell you why.  It's told by Zayda, a camel (?!!!) and you have to pay attention a bit as you read, because the book hops around in time.  It starts in Texas in 1910 (Camels???  In Texas???  In 1910???  I KNOW!!!).  It turns out there is a terrible sand storm coming towards Zayda.  She has good friends, the kestrels that are trying to warn her about the impending storm but the kestrel pair are also hoping for a favor, can Zayda take their babies to safety?  Of course Zayda agrees!  The baby kestrels are impatient and scared and a little crabby (ok, maybe a lot crabby) but Zayda soothes them by telling them stories about her life, and what a life it's been!  Zayda's life started in Turkey, in the pasha's stables, as a racing camel.  Zayda's best friend was born at about the same time as Zayda and they are inseparable.  They love racing, they love their handler, and they love their life in Turkey.  A chain of surprising events land Zayda and her bestie, Asiye in Texas and there they learn about the plants and animals of Texas.  This book is like a love letter to the Texas habitat and Appelt makes good use of all the animals, plants and some of the history of this very interesting place.  On top of that, there are some truly stellar illustrations in this book.  From my ARC, they look like pencil or maybe pen and ink drawings and each picture gives such presence.  The drawings of the baby kestrels will make everyone go "awwww" and the camels are so adorable.  The voices of these characters are so wonderful, from Zayda's ponderous and patient voice to the baby kestrels shrill banter, Appelt totally nails the dialogue of this wonderful story.  I can't wait to put this one in my library.  

Here's the book trailer.

The second one is a sequel to a book I loved.  The first one was called Pax and the sequel is called Pax a Journey Home.  They're both written by Sara Pennypacker and illustrated by Jon Klassen.  In case you missed Pax, it's about a boy named Peter who has to abandon a fox kit he adopted because it was injured.  The fox kit is fully grown and healed and named Pax.  Peter's dad insists he abandon the fox because Peter's dad is going off to fight in a war and Peter is meant to go and stay with his grandfather.  Except neither Peter nor the grandfather think this is a great idea.  Peter decides he's going to go back and find Pax, except that he gets injured badly enough that going it alone on foot is out of the question.  A lady named Vola helps him along until he's well enough to go and look for Pax.  In the meantime, Pax is making his own life out in the wild.  SPOILER ALERT- The two reunite at the end.  It's a wonderful story.  So this new one, A Journey Home, starts with Peter living with Vola and his dad has been killed, but not exactly in the war.  His dad is accused of getting killed while being AWOL (absent without leave).  Peter's grandfather is bitter and disappointed about this and Peter is convinced the best thing to do is just to separate himself from everyone so that he never feels pain like this again.  Vola is sorry to see him go and tells him that she's given him a piece of her land so that he has a place to come back to.  Peter tells her he's going to join the Water Warriors- a group of people who are going out into the countryside to help fix the water sources that have been damaged during the war.  Peter meets two very nice people who allow him to tag along in their journey and they end up helping each other.  Pax meanwhile has become a parent.  He and his mate Bristle have three beautiful cubs.  Pax takes his little daughter with him on a short journey and she's poisoned by the water that Peter and his friends are trying to fix. Readers who like big themes of love and forgiveness are going to love this one, but readers will want to have read the first story for this second one to really make sense to them.  If you liked Pax, make sure you read this one!

Here's a book trailer. 

Here's Colby Sharp telling about it too.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

More SSYRA 3-5 2021

 School started this week and I'm a little behind the power curve on the SSYRA books this year.  I blame the shortened summer-we started late last year and so we ended three weeks late -three weeks less vacation.  Uh, gosh, that sounds like a first world problem, doesn't it?  Let's get to the book reviews, shall we?

The first one is a terrific speculative fiction title called The Total Eclipse of Nestor Lopez by Adrianna Cuevas.  It's about Nestor, who has just moved to New Haven.  His dad is in the Army and they've moved often.  His dad is currently deployed in Afghanistan and Nestor misses him a LOT.  Nestor and his mom have moved in with Nestor's Abuela-his dad's mom, so there are lots of pieces of his dad around, like his dad's old baseball glove and the animal encyclopedia his dad made when he was a kid.  Nestor is very interested in animals too, and he can talk to them.  To his surprise, Nestor finds school to be ok.  He finds new friends almost right away and they recruit him to join the trivia team.  But weird things are happening-people's pets are disappearing and somehow, the people of the town seem to think Nestor's abuela has something to do with it.  Nestor doesn't think that could be right, but then he sees Abuela going into the forest with a big knife.  The animals start telling him about a witch that's been attacking the animals and Nestor decides he has to try to stop the witch.  This is a really fun story to read.  The voices of Nestor and his friends are clear and easy to connect to, the animals voices are so much fun.  There is some connecting to Cuban culture (Abuela is from Cuba) and the parts about how the family handles the father's military deployment are just terrific.  This is a book with a lot of heart and I think the kids are going to love it. 

This second one is realistic fiction.  It's called Wish Upon a Sleepover by Suzanne Selfors.  It's about Leilani who lives with her mom and her grandmother (Tutu) in an apartment in Seattle.  Leilani has a best friend named Autumn but Autumn's parents have divorced and now Autumn spends some weekends with him.  Leilani is worried that she won't have anyone to hang out with, so she sets her sights on a group of girls called the Haileys-6 girls all named Hailey (they're all spelled differently) who have sleepovers almost every weekend.  Leilani can see some of the sleepover action because her apartment is right across the street from the condos where some of the Haileys live.  She comes up with a plan to have her own sleepover and invite all the Haileys plus her best friend Autumn, but as she's making the list invitation list, she also makes a DO NOT INVITE list.  THAT list includes her second cousin Todd who is always trying to get Leilani to admit that they are really related, William, a new boy who lives in her building who doesn't really speak and Tanisha, a girl who always wears ears or a hoodie with ears and is always drawing.  Tutu invites all the kids on the DO NOT INVITE list and Leilani is completely mortified.  She tries as hard as she can to get out of it and eventually grudgingly decides to go through with it.  Her grandmother makes a Hawaiian sleepover soup where each guest is meant to put something into the the soup and then make a wish in front the moon.  The journey of finding each thing helps Leilani and the other kids see each other in a different light, including Leilani seeing a not so flattering version of herself. The journey also helps them to see who they really want to be friends with and what being friends really means.  Ok and it's really not as preachy as I'm making it sound!   Leilani is a really terrific character with a bit of tunnel vision that I think we all have about our lives and being able to recognize how our own actions might be interpreted by others is a great lesson. Beyond that,  this was a really fun story to read.  The characters are people that I recognized and the plot moves FAST.  I did put it down but only once because we were eating dinner!  I also loved the connection to the folk tale Stone Soup. I think the kids are going to like this one a lot.  I know I did! 

Sunday, August 8, 2021

SSYRA 3-5 2021

 I LOVE the SSYRA (Sunshine State Young Reader Award) list.  In case you've never heard of it, librarians from across the state of Florida choose 15 books and kids from across the state read them and the kids get to vote on which one is best.  The books sometimes are ones that lots of people are talking about, and often are ones that haven't been on my radar, which makes it really fun.  They are always wonderful stories so it's a treat to get to read them!  

I just finished "From the Desk of Zoe Washington" by Janae Marks.  It's about Zoe, who is an aspiring baker and almost middle school student.  One of her best friends has moved away, her other best friend is away for summer vacation and Zoe's really mad at her next-door neighbor best friend, because he didn't stand up for her when he was talking to some of his basketball buddies.  When Zoe comes home from her birthday party, there's a kind of surprise in the mail-a card from her dad, who is in jail.  Zoe has never gotten any mail from her dad and her mom has been pretty clear she didn't want Zoe to have anything to do with her biological father, but Zoe is curious, so she writes back.  Marcus (her dad) writes back to her and Zoe ends up with even more questions, like how did he wind up in jail?  Her grandmother helps her to connect with Marcus (without her mother knowing) and the questions snowball.  Zoe finds she has many things in common with her dad, like cooking and great music, but when her mom and stepdad find out that she's been trying to connect with Marcus, they are pretty upset.  Zoe believes her dad is innocent and does some research to try help prove it.  This is wonderful story about persistence and family.  It touches on the high level of incarceration among African American men and the racism that leads to many of them being there.  This also has fun cultural connections-the playlist that Marcus sends to Zoe would be fun to curate. It would also be fun to try to experiment with cupcake flavors the way Zoe does.  I can't wait to put this out for my students.

Here's a little book trailer!

The second one I read is called Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewel Parker Rhodes.  Rhodes wrote the amazing "Ghost Boys" a few years ago, so I wasn't surprised at all to see her new work on the list.  I was a little surprised to feel how perfect it was to read a story like this, right after the Olympics.  It's about Donte, the younger son of a biracial couple.  His older light skinned brother is good at sports and has lots of friends, but Donte, who has dark skin,  is still trying to find his 'thing'.  Both boys attend an exclusive private school but Donte seems to have become a target of a bully and the bully is getting exactly what he wants-Donte in trouble.  This time the trouble is real-the police come to pick him up and arrest him at school.  Donte is suspended for a week and while he's at home, he and his brother come up with a plan to get even with the bully-beat him at his own game, fencing.  But Donte doesn't know how to fence and can't join the school team, so he does a little research and finds out one of the best fencers in history is African American and it turns out, he's working at a Boys and Girls Club nearby.  Dante goes to meet him and is a bit disappointed at first, but convinces the coach to teach him.  What's great about this book is how many different kinds of stories that are woven into this one-the life lessons you get from fencing, the ways racial stereotyping plays out in schools, in the judicial system, in life, family,  and how friends and teachers can be found in surprising places.  I loved this book.  I can't wait to put it in my library.

Here's the cover.

and here's a book trailer.

Monday, July 26, 2021

Middle grade adventure! Summer 2021

 Need to take a little adventure this summer?  Here are two titles that might be right up your alley!  

The first one is called Champion's Quest: The Die of Destiny by Frank L. Cole.  It starts with Lucas, a 12 year old in foster care.  He is convinced that he would be better off away from the foster home where he has been living, so he hatches a plan to run away by train.  Except that one of the other foster kids, Miles, is meant to give his story credence, and Miles doesn't really want Lucas to go.  They end up in what seems like a store but is actually the offices of a magical adventure group.  Two girls join them-one is Jasmine, a girl who seems to be perpetually in trouble, and Vanessa, the daughter of the foster parents where Lucas and Miles are living.  The game sounds like some of the role playing games that people play on line like Dungeons and Dragons-there are magical beasts that can either help or hurt you, your welfare depends on your decision making and you have to keep track of food and sleep and energy, and other characters that may or may not be there to help you.  There's also a fun subplot of how the makers of the games are trying to help or hurt different teams.  The characters are interesting and it's an exciting adventure with lots of plot twists.  There are also some fun references to other magical stories, like Harry Potter.  For kids who like role playing games or magic kingdoms, this would be a fun read.  It reminded me a bit of one I'd read a couple of years ago called Homework and Hall Passes by Tom O'Donnell.  I think the kids will like this one a lot. 

Here's the official book trailer.

Here's the cover.

The second one is called Stowaway.  It's written by John David Anderson, who you might remember wrote a terrific book called Ms. Bixby's Last Day.  Ms. Bixby is realistic fiction and the new one is science fiction, which I keep saying is not my favorite, but I always like these science fiction books I pick!  Go figure.  Anyway, this new one is great too.  It's about Leo who is living with his older brother Garrett and his dad on a space ship.  Leo and Garrett's dad is a scientist and he's been working with the alien beings that have colonized Earth to get their ventasium, a mineral that provides them with power.  Leo's mom was killed in an attack by a rival alien group, which is part of why the boys and their dad are living in space now.  At the beginning of the story, their ship is attacked and left floating in outer space with out power, communication, or food.  Leo and Garrett's dad is taken prisoner.  In desperation, Garrett puts Leo on a pirate ship in hopes that Leo will be able to get help back to the ship.  The pirates are less than thrilled to find a stowaway, but eventually, Leo proves his worth and the band of pirates set out to track down Leo's dad.  This is another very exciting story.  The characters in this one are well conceived and there are some fun cultural touchstones thrown in along the way that may or may not resonate with middle grader readers (but totally did with me).  The idea that Leo probably doesn't have the whole story about the different groups of aliens will ring true with readers and could be used to connect with more topical stories about a conversation about what is the truth and why it gets shaded.  I thought this one was terrific and the ending left me thinking it was probably not the last one!  I hope you'll like this one too.

Here's the cover!