The lineup for the 12th annual Books by the Banks festival, of which KnowledgeWorks is a sponsor, includes some great authors, including an especially strong lineup of children’s book authors. Here are previews of some of the books by authors who will be participating on panels or special storytimes.
First Star: A Bear and Mole Story by Will Hillenbrand
A discussion of astrology and Ursa Major might sound like heady stuff for a children’s book, but author Will Hillenbrand pulls it off well in First Star: A Bear and Mole Story. In this story, friends Mole and Bear go on a camping trip where Bear teachers Mole how the stars can help him navigate through the dark.
While Hillenbrand shares a very bear-based story of the creation of stars, it offers a starting point to discuss all the secrets of the nighttime sky and an excuse to go find the Ursa Major constellation that plays such a key role in Bear’s story.
George The Hero Hound by Jeff Ebbeler
Fortunately for one farm loaded with scheming cows and bumbling humans, there’s a very special hound dog, George, to help run the show. In George The Hero Hound, George does everything from mechanics to animal management (those scheming cows!) to marketing. It’s a lot of work for an old farmhand!
George The Hero Hound is a short read, but author and illustrator Jeff Ebbeler includes illustrations that expand on the story and leave lots of room for discussions about, for example, if cows can actually draw up blueprints for escape plans.
Klondike Do Not Eat Those Cupcakes! by Amanda Driscoll
How do you resist temptation when there’s something in front of you that you really, really want? That’s what Klondike the seal is dealing with leading up to his little sister’s birthday party in Klondike Do Not Eat Those Cupcakes!. There are cupcakes just taunting him while he tries to obey his mother’s request to wait until the party starts.
This book is easy to read out loud and author / illustrator Amanda Driscoll includes very funny pictures throughout. Readers will be able to engage children in easy conversations about the story and how you resist temptation or apologize when your attempts to do right fail.
There’s a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake by Loren Long
What’s in the bottom of the lake? Don’t let the title of the book There’s a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake by Loren Long fool you, because it’s much more than a log. There’s a frog and bugs and fish and more. Perhaps the most entertaining residents of the lake are a turtle / snail duo that provide their own side commentary throughout the story.
Some children’s books, like There’s a Hole in the Log on the Bottom of the Lake, are simply fun to read aloud. Putting a spin on the classic folk song, with it’s familiar patterns of words, repetition and symmetry of phrases, a sort of rhythmic sing-songy reading is almost inevitable. Long also provides the sheet music to There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea so that the musically inclined can take storytelling one step further. Kids will like the book for the funny story and the all most guaranteed fun(ny) recitations from adults, and adult readers, at least this one, will enjoy the turtle and snail subplot.
Books for early and middle grade readers
14 Hollow Road by Jenn Bishop
14 Hollow Road explores the normal trauma that accompanies junior high and the tween years, but also deals with the aftermath of a natural disaster. Maddie is at her end-of-the-year sixth grade dance when a tornado flattens her home and results in her pet dog going missing. Thanks to the kindness of neighbors, Maddie’s family takes up residence down the street for the Summer so they can rebuild her house. Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your perspective, her crush finds himself in a similar scenario, the same temporary housing and in the bedroom next to Maddie’s! Emotional roller-coasters ensue.
Jenn Bishop writes thoughtfully of how trauma affects children, and how it can manifest itself in so many ways. No matter how we might try to shield them, children are often exposed to the trauma that follows natural disasters, even if only by watching the news. 14 Hollow Road offers a starting point to thinking about the different supports victims need, be they housing, friendship or someone who is willing to help you track down a lost dog.
Ahimsa by Supriya Kelkar
The Sanskrit word “ahisma” describe a principle of nonviolence towards all living things. That was the philosophy that Ghandi espoused and it plays an integral role in the novel Ahisma by Supriya Kelkar. This story takes place in 1942 in India amidst the country’s struggle for freedom from the British government. Ten-year-old Anjali learns what it means to take a stand, a peaceful stand, by watching as her mother becomes a freedom fighter. Through small acts like eschewing clothing made with Indian cotton, manufactured overseas and imported at a higher cost, Anjali’s mother models peaceful resistance. Anjali, in turn, finds her own ways to make a stand.
An important role of historical fiction is to help readers have context for past events and better understand how we have arrived where we are today. Novels like Ahisma, with parallels to more current or localized events, create opportunities for new perspectives and fruitful discussions. When history is explained through the eyes of a child, it can help both young and older readers learn about significant events in a way that makes more sense. While recommended for readers ages eight to 12, Ahisma can be an informative read for a much wider age range.
Bad Kitty: Camp Daze by Nick Bruel
Nick Bruel takes on one of the more controversial topics of our day in Bad Kitty: Camp Daze. Are cats or dogs better? (You guys, it’s obviously cats.) Fortunately for readers, Bruel is able to find some middle ground in this funny graphic novel. The story is about Puppy, who gets sent away to a camp for stressed our dogs, and Kitty, who hitches a free ride in Puppy’s bag and attends camp while pretending to be a dog. As cats are the enemy of dogs in Bruel’s telling, the interspecies relaxation camp does not go well.
As with many picture books, author and illustrator Nick Bruel is able to take advantage of the artwork in Bad Kitty: Camp Daze to work in visual humor keep readers of all ages entertained. The focus throughout this book is fun and jokes, but there is a lesson to be learned about the redeeming factors in mortal enemies, even when the enemies are cats.
How to Draw Video Games: Create Unique Characters, Worlds, Levels and More! by Steve Harpster
Most of the books included here are novels that help transport readers to new times, places and worlds. How to Draw Video Games by Steve Harpster helps readers, nay artists, do the transporting. A skilled artist in his own right, Harpster breaks down elements of videos games into easy-to-draw pieces. For instance, in a section on “Under the Sea,” he shows how to draw a piranha in four steps. And while this reader is more of a reader than an artist, the steps helped me draw a pretty fierce looking piranha.
Video games can help capture the imaginations of children much in the way that books can. This book helps children craft their own visual stories.
The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt
Devin has always been an attention seeker, but when he asks his best friend, Addison, to film him doing a dangerous acrobatic stunt over recess, he’s taking thing a little too far. And that’s only the beginning of Devin’s ideas of things that will make you famous when uploaded to YouTube. Addison wants to support his friend, but he also has his own issues to work through, and their friendship is put to the test.
As demonstrated in The Right Hook of Devin Velma by Jake Burt, all relationships, even best friend relationships, include times that are harder than others. Set against backdrops of poverty, illness and multi-generational families, this story about boyhood friends shows how it can be the hard times that prove which friendships can stand the test of time.
Star Wars Forces of Destiny: The Leia Chronicles by Emma Carlson Berne
Star Wars Forces of Destiny: The Leia Chronicles, by Emma Carlson Berne, contains three stories: Ewok Escape, Imperial Feast and Bounty of Trouble. The connecting thread throughout the book is that actions we take, in both big and small moments, are what make us heroes. For young fans of of the Star Wars franchise, The Leia Chronicles builds on some of the stories shared in the cartoons.
While this book won’t go deep into any storyline, all three short stories give children an opportunity to enjoy their favorite characters a little longer and each plot reinforces the power of strong women and the big impact of small decisions.
The Train of Lost Things by Ammi Joan Paquette
A story of loss, all types of loss, The Train of Lost Things will take readers on an adventure and emotional journey as they accompany Marty on a quest to find a lost jacket. The jacket in question is not just any jacket; it’s the very special jean jacket given to him by his terminally ill father and which is adorned with pins they’ve been collecting over time. Fortunately, Marty’s father has told him about the Train of Lost Things, a magical engine that flies around the world collecting things that have been lost and keeping them safe. Marty goes in a quest to find the train and his jacket, and finds much, much more.
This book is a great one for early readers who are processing loss, or love someone who is. Author Ammi Joan Paquette doesn’t avoid hard topics like death or afterlife, but she writes about them in an appropriate way for young book lovers. The Train of Lost Things is a beautiful story that’s likely to bring tears to the eyes of readers of all ages.
The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko
Following in the tradition of many hero’s journey fantasy novels, The Unicorn Quest by Kamilla Benko features Claire Martinson on a journey between worlds that involves wraiths, unicorns and magic. Claire passes through a portal to a new land and must navigate her way amongst people of the five guilds of Arden while on a quest to save her sister. True to genre, she’s must also learn to find strength in herself.
For middle grade readers just dipping their toe into the world of fantasy, Benko does a great job world building and explaining things that are standard fantasy fare, without it being a noticeable or distracting addition to the writing. She also crafts phrases that are beautiful for readers of all ages, like, “a blessing of unicorns and a glory of fireflies.”