In this month’s Between the Bookends, Sophie and Rebecca share five books for young readers that they have enjoyed recently.
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The Screaming Hairy Armadillo and 76 Other Animals with Weird, Wild Names by Matthew and Steve Murrie
Sophie’s first book this month is one she read some time ago. The Screaming Hairy Armadillo and 76 Other Animals with Weird, Wild Names is a middle-grade non-fiction book that looks at dozens of creatures from around the world with pictures, habitat information, fascinating facts, and information about how they got their unusual names.
The creatures are divided up into five sections depending on their names. First, there are “Funny Names” like the Striped Pyjama Squid, Monkeyface Prickleback, and (one of Sophie’s all-time favorite animals after learning about it on an episode of QI years ago) the Sarcastic Fringehead. Section two is for “Magical Names” like the Unicornfish, Goblin Shark, and Pink Fairy Armadillo. Section three gives us animals with “Fierce Names” like the Vampire Squid, Twice-Stabbed Stink Bug, and the delightful sounding Bone-Eating Snot Flower Worm, which reside here along with the titular Screaming Hairy Armadillo. Section four is reserved for “Delicious Names” including the Fried Egg Jellyfish, Cookiecutter Shark, and the Chocolate Dip Damselfish.
The fifth and final section is for “Just-Plain-Weird Names” and includes such fantastic names as the Birdbeak Dogfish, White Bellied Go-Away Bird, and the Tasseled Wobbegong. (Sophie gives you one guess what continent that last one comes from!) All the creatures included in the book get at least one full-page (most get two or three) filled with easy-to-read information and plenty of brightly-colored photos and illustrations to break it all up, and there are plenty of extra bits of interesting info and bonus animals scattered throughout the book as well.
Sophie’s ten-year-old reluctant reader read this one from cover-to-cover, frequently coming over to tell her (through tears of laughter) about whatever bizarre animal he’d just read about. Sophie recommends this as a great book to read together because parents will almost certainly learn something new along with their kids, and you’ll all be laughing together too.
Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith
Sophie’s next book was more middle-grade non-fiction. Black Heroes of the Wild West by James Otis Smith is a graphic novel containing three short stories based on the lives of real Black Americans, all former slaves who lived in the Wild West.
The first story follows Mary Fields, otherwise known as Stagecoach Mary. Following Emancipation, she went on to work a number of jobs including being a chambermaid aboard a steamboat on the Mississippi, working at a Mission in Montana, and running a restaurant, but it was her time working a mail route that made her famous. Known for her gunplay, whiskey-drinking, and card-playing, Stagecoach Mary was the epitome of a Wild West legend.
The second story belongs to Bass Reeves. He became the first Black marshal west of the Mississippi, brought over 3000 fugitives to justice, and might be the inspiration behind the Lone Ranger. The book follows him over the course of a single day, using his cunning to bring in a pair of wanted men without violence.
The third and final story is given to Bob Lemmons, a mustanger who developed a unique and more humane method of bringing in herds of wild mustangs on the Texas plains. His story follows him over the course of tracking, befriending, and eventually capturing a herd as a young man, something he did enough during his life to earn enough money to settle his own ranch with herds of horses and cattle, making him one of the first Black homesteaders.
Sophie knows very little about the Wild West beyond stereotypical depictions and found this book extremely enlightening. Beyond the comic-format stories, factual segments and photographs look at the roles African Americans, Native Americans, and Hispanic vaqueros played in that era—roles that are often whitewashed in traditional images of cowboys and the West.
Sophie’s only complaint about this book is that it wasn’t nearly long enough because she imagines there are dozens more Black Heroes of the Wild West with stories equally worth telling.
Carmen Sandiego: Secrets of the Silver Lion by Emma Otheguy
Shifting to middle-grade fiction, Sophie’s third book was Secrets of the Silver Lion by Emma Otheguy, a novel based on the Netflix animated show Carmen Sandiego.
The Throne of Felipe is a Spanish antique carved with spaces that once housed three ornate silver pieces: a feather, a lion, and a castle. Over the centuries, both the lion and castle have been lost, but with the recent discovery of the castle piece deep within a secret Spanish vault, the hunt is now on to locate the silver lion and reunite all the pieces with the throne before putting it on display.
However, VILE has other plans and sends operatives to steal both the Throne of Felipe itself and the silver castle piece. It’s down to Carmen Sandiego and her friends to recover the stolen throne and figure out where the final missing piece—the silver lion—is hidden before VILE steals it too.
This was a short, educational story filled with adventure and mystery that will grip younger readers from the very first page. As with the TV show, the educational elements usually appear as expositional info-dumps that can occasionally feel forced, but this is standard with Carmen Sandiego and fans will feel entirely at home. Carmen and her friends visit Spain and Bolivia as well as New York, learning about these places as they go.
Sophie also loved the deeper elements that were woven into the story. Carmen’s struggles with her identity are reflected in the people she gets to know, including Milly, a Spanish-Bolivian-American museum curator, and Leon, the silversmith who crafted the throne pieces hundreds of years before. The story also includes many elements about immigrant culture and hints at the Spanish links to the slave trade.
Fans of the TV show will love Secrets of the Silver Lion and Sophie imagines that readers who haven’t yet watched it may be inspired to give the show a try after reading this.
The Noisy Classroom by Angela Shanté
Sophie’s final book this month was The Noisy Classroom by Angela Shanté. This picture book is perfect for kids who are worried about having a new teacher and classroom when they go back to school.
Our protagonist is an unnamed mixed-race girl who is moving up from second to third grade. One of the third-grade teachers is Ms. Johnson, and Ms. Johnson teaches “the noisy class.” The noisy class doesn’t sit in rows, they don’t walk down the corridors in neat straight lines, and they don’t always leave school at exactly 3 pm. Instead, they sing, dance, and generally make a lot of noise—as does Ms. Johnson herself.
When out protagonist learns she is being put into Ms. Johnson’s class, she refuses to go back to school and plans to move to Antarctica instead. Ms. Johnson’s class is clearly nothing but chaos and she will never learn anything in it. However, her parents push her to go back and she finds herself starting to actually like being part of the noisy class, even if she can’t understand how she could possibly be learning anything!
Sophie thought this was a great picture book with a fantastic message for nervous youngsters that just because something seems different, it might still be great. The illustrations were bright, colorful, and funny—Sophie immediately wanted to be friends with the bubbly Ms. Johnson herself—and the story itself was full of heart. She would recommend this to all young readers but especially those who find change a cause for anxiety.
Legendborn By Tracy Deonn
Legendborn by Tracy Deonn is the perfect blend of modern fantasy with ancient myths. The Arthurian Legends were never a big draw for Rebecca, but it was hard to resist the cover of this book of a Black girl with awesome curly hair controlling magic.
The main character is Briana, a teenager in an early college program at the University of North Carolina. She and her best friend had been super excited to apply and get in, but then everything changed when Briana’s mother died in a car accident. Briana’s father encourages her to keep going with her own dreams, but Briana’s grief is a huge part of this book. What makes it deeper, is that the author herself lost her mother as a teenager.
The magic comes in quickly and fast as Briana stumbles upon monsters and the college students that slay them. Each time she has her memory “wiped,” except… it doesn’t take. Briana remembers everything and is determined to find out the truth because she is certain it all is related to her mother’s death. As she meets new friends and sexy young men, she is drawn into a world where the legends of Arthur are real, and the descendants of the people in the myths are alive and still fighting demons. But Briana also meets someone who shows her another side of magic, the side of her own Black ancestors, secrets passed down through the generations. It is powerful and rooted and calls to her.
50% female speaking characters. Rebecca was completely drawn into this story and can’t wait until the next book comes out!
Fart Quest By Aaron Reynolds Illustrated By Cam Kendell
Rebecca Angel’s young niece was around the day she received an email about a new book called, Fart Quest. Her niece begged her aunt to get the book so she could read it too. Rebecca finished Fart Quest and will happily pass it along to her niece because any kids her age will LOVE it. Although, I’m sure the publishers are aiming for a specific market of bathroom humor fans in the middle grades, anyone who still giggles at using “toilet” in MadLibs will enjoy Fart Quest.
Fart is the nickname for the main character, a young wizard in training in a fantasy world. Fart and his friends, Pan and Moxie, are all just lowly apprentices when the unexpected happens and they themselves have a chance to be heroes. Written in the style of a role-playing game, Fart and his friends have to gain points from their deeds to level up. The powerful mage Kevin sends them on a quest to find the golden llama and capture its magical fart.
Fart is a young kid who isn’t all that great at anything and uses his magical abilities for jokes. Yet when faced with problems, he doesn’t give up and earnestly wants to do good in the world. Although the book is full of jokes both in the writing and the illustrations (so funny!), it’s a well-written story with a plot that pulls the reader along effortlessly. Learning how to work together is what makes heroes truly great in Fart Quest.
41% female speaking characters.
GeekMom received copies of these titles for review purposes.