Test Your Knowledge of Banned Books!

If you’re a big reader, you might know that Sunday marks the start of Banned Books Week—a week where the entire book community comes together to celebrate our freedom to read. If you are not familiar with Banned Books Week, we’ll catch you up!


Books for all ages are often banned or challenged, especially in schools and libraries, when people feel that the content is somehow offensive or unsuitable for its audience. Some children’s books that have been banned or challenged in recent years include:

Looking For Alaska by John Green
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret
 by Judy Blume
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie
The Golden Compass
/His Dark Materials series by Philip Pullman
Captain Underpants series by Dav Pilkey

This is just a snapshot; the list goes on and on and on.

However, Banned Books Week is about changing the conversation and focusing on the harms of censorship. After all, one of the best things about reading is the ability of books to broaden our worldview, and introduce ideas or opinions or perspectives that are different from our own. While each person has the right to choose not to read a book if he or she finds it objectionable, we believe everyone should be able to make that choice for themselves.


This year, Banned Books Week runs from September 25th to October 1st. Make sure you check out your local bookstores for events, or to just pick up a banned book that you’ve never read before. If you want to learn more about Banned Books Week, you can visit the BBW website or the American Library Association’s website.

And we have a special activity for Banned Books Week!

Download the crossword puzzle that we’ve created for Banned Books Week, and test your knowledge of some of the most frequently banned and challenged children’s books. And if you’re in the Cincinnati area, bring your completed crossword in to blue manatee children’s bookstore to enter into a special prize drawing!

Let’s spread the word about banned books and exercise our freedom to read!


Banned Books Week 2016 Crossword


Download the crossword puzzle here!

Unlikely Pets in Picture Books

How many picture books involve animals of some kind? Way too many to count! After “things that go” (cars, trucks, planes, trains, etc.), “animals” is probably the most popular picture book category, although that category is admittedly broad. From personified animals to animal sounds to animals who don’t fit in, and much more, it’s hard to pick up a picture book and not find a furry or scaly or toothy creature involved in some way.

Under the umbrella of “books about animals,” we see a new category manifesting itself, and it’s one that we enjoy immensely: picture books about unlikely pets.


Getting a pet is one of those universal life experiences that almost everyone encounters in their childhood. From the tiniest goldfish to the biggest dog, pets can be a great addition to the family, providing loyal companions and lifelong friends as well as opportunities for lessons about responsibility. Every kid has an idea in his or her head about what it’s like to have a pet; so what happens when the pet in question isn’t quite what you expected?

It makes for a great story, that’s for sure! Below are some of our favorite picture books about unlikely or unexpected pets. These animal friends might not look like much at first to their human counterparts, but you never know—they might surprise you (and almost always do!). (Click the cover images for more information.)


Sparky by Jenny Offill & Chris Appelhans

It starts innocently enough. A little girl asks for a pet. Her mom says she can have any pet she wants, “as long as it doesn’t need to be walked or bathed or fed.” After a brief bit of research, the girl finds the answer, and Sparky the sloth arrives in the mail. Winner of the Charlotte Zolotow award, Sparky! is a story about learning to accept people (and pets) just the way they are—and we challenge you not to fall in love with Appelhans’s illustrations of the furry, wide-eyed Sparky.


Not Norman by Kelly Bennett & Noah Z. Jones

This little boy would take ANYTHING for a pet—just not Norman. Norman is a fish, and he doesn’t do much other than swim. Disappointed, the boy decides to trade Norman in for a different pet. But then he realizes: is it possible that Norman can do more than he thought? A perfect book for celebrating a classic “first pet.”


The Princess and the Pony by Kate Beaton

For her birthday this year, little warrior Princess Pinecone wants a horse. A big, fast, strong horse! What she gets instead is a chubby little pony that’s too small to even ride properly. When the day of the big battle arrives, Princess Pinecone is worried—but her pony has a secret weapon that just might help them win the battle. From the hilarious creator of Hark! A Vagrant comes a silly, sweet story for horse lovers (and warriors) everywhere.


A Unicorn Named Sparkle by Amy Young

The ad says, “Unicorn, 25 cents.” How does anyone pass up a deal like that? Lucy sends in her money and patiently awaits the arrival of her unicorn. But when he finally arrives, he’s not quite what she expected: more of a goat with a horn on his head. After her initial disappointment, Lucy names him Sparkle, and discovers that even though he might not be the unicorn she had in mind, he’s still her unicorn—and that’s what matters.


I Won a What? by Audrey Vernick & Robert Neubecker

This whale of a tale is entertaining to the end! At the carnival, one little boy’s parents promise him he can keep whatever he wins at the goldfish booth. Sure enough, he wins the game—but goes home with a whale! A whale named Nuncio! Nevertheless, a promise is a promise, and the family takes the whale home with them. It’s an adjustment, to be sure, but soon it’s hard to imagine life without Nuncio.


Children Make Terrible Pets by Peter Brown

Lucy the bear is out playing in the woods one day when she comes across a most adorable creature. The creature in question is a child, and Lucy begs her parents to let her keep him. Her mother finally gives in, but with a warning: “Children make terrible pets.” Lucy scoffs; how much trouble could one child possibly be? The answer: more than she bargained for! Young readers will get a kick out of seeing a relatable situation turned on its head (an animal having a pet human?!), but will also recognize the difficulties Lucy faces in caring for her “pet.”

What are some of your favorite books about pets? Tell us in the comments below!

If you liked THOSE books, try THESE books!

When kids find books they really like, it’s a big deal, especially if the kids in question aren’t super enthusiastic readers. Parents, relatives, and friends of middle readers often come to us and ask, “My child just read _____ and loved it. Do you know of anything else like it?”

On the other side of the coin, sometimes people come in asking for good books for middle readers, and one of the first questions we always ask is, “What has he/she read recently that he/she liked?” Making recommendations is a large part of our job as booksellers, and the easiest way to help customers pick out books for kids we have never met is to try to hone in on that child’s interests, reading and otherwise.

We love helping people find just the right book, or (even better) discover new books previously unknown to them. So this week, we thought we’d play matchmaker. We’ve taken some of the most popular books for 3rd and 4th graders and matched them with similar books at the 5th and 6th grade reading level. If your kids are outgrowing their old favorites, hopefully these recommendations will help launch them into new and exciting reading adventures!

If you liked, then try

Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series has taken over the world—literally. The books have been translated into 50 languages, and almost every kid who comes into blue manatee has read or is reading them. How do you follow up such a wildly popular series? We think we have the answer. Although not written in “diary” form, Wonder is likewise a story of a kid just trying to fit in and navigate his school days successfully. Unlike Kinney’s Greg, however, R.J. Palacio’s protagonist Auggie must do so with a facial deformity, which presents its own set of challenges.

If you liked, then try (1)

Matt Christopher, the king of sports writing, has entertained young athletes for years with his books about basketball, baseball, soccer—you name it. For fans of his books, we recommend Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover. Winner of the 2015 Newbery Medal and written in (amazing) verse, this story of a young basketball player will hook readers from the start and not let them go until the last page.


School’s back in session—at Wayside School, that is. Hilariously funny, sometimes confusing, and always entertaining, Louis Sachar’s stories make us all wish we could be in Mrs. Jewls’s class. Although not quite as irreverent, Ms. Bixby’s Last Day strikes a similarly chaotic (but also heartwarming) tone, as three friends set out to give a beloved teacher the best last day ever after she is unable to finish out the school year due to an illness. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll remember all of your favorite teachers, Mrs. Jewls included!


Roald Dahl’s books are consistent favorites, and Matilda is no exception. It’s a book for book lovers, really, with a little magic and a couple of outrageous situations thrown in (Bruce’s chocolate cake, anyone?). Enter Inkheart, by Cornelia Funke, starring bookish girl Meggie and her bookish father Mo, who has the power to read characters straight out of their books! A dream come true for any bookworm… until the day that the villain of the story is suddenly transported to the real world.


Know any readers who enjoy a good scare? They’re probably fans of the Goosebumps series, in which R.L. Stine manages to create genuinely creepy stories with a little bit of silliness thrown in for fun. But Goosebumps is only the beginning; take scary storytelling to the next level with Terrifying Tales, a collection of scary stories written by some of the most notable contemporary children’s authors, including Stine himself. You might want to sleep with the lights on after this one!


The concept of “twisted fairy tales” has been around for years, but there seems to be a resurgence in middle grade books. The popular Whatever After series puts a modern spin on well-known fairy tales, from Snow White to Cinderella to the Little Mermaid. Similarly, the Sisters Grimm series follows two girls who are descendants of the famous Grimm brothers, as they solve mysteries related to the people in their town—who may or may not be fairy tale characters. Perfect for fans of long-beloved fairy tales!


Harriet the Spy is a classic; readers young and old adore bold, independent Harriet, who loves to spy on people and keeps tabs on all she observes in her notebook. If you have fans of Harriet in the house, try The Westing Game next. Readers will see a lot of Harriet’s spirit in Turtle, the fearless, ambitious heroine who is determined to solve the mystery of Sam Westing’s death and win the ten million dollar prize in his posthumous game. A brilliant puzzle-mystery with an entertaining cast of characters, this Newbery Honor book will soon become a favorite.

BMP Guest Post: Fall Sneak Peeks!

Hello ManaFriends!

We’re back from blue manatee press! If you’re new here, welcome!

blue manatee press is an independent children’s publishing imprint affiliated with (but distinct from) blue manatee children’s bookstore. This week, we wanted to give the readers of the blue manatee book blog a sneak peek at some lovely new children’s books that we’ll be releasing this fall, on September 6th. These books will take you everywhere from your own living room to the far reaches of outer space, with plenty of room in between for imagination and play!


Read on to find out more about the books (and possibly win some free copies—FREE BOOKS!). We’re really excited about this list, and hope you will be, too!

Board Books

HH cover

Hungry Henry, by Marla Osborn

Trust us when we say that this is not your average concept book! Follow Henry as he dreams of meeting animals made out of food—first a blueberry sheep, then a graham cracker moose, and more! While Henry is hand-drawn, the animals are all magnificently created out of real food that has been arranged and photographed in delicious detail. This book arrives just in time for back to school, offering creative snack and lunch ideas that will leave your kids begging for more!

See a full preview of Hungry Henry on our Pinterest page here. You can also enter to win a free advance copy on Goodreads.

IWTBAD cover

I Want to Be a Drummer! by Mark Powers,
illustrated by Maria Montag

Encourage and inspire your child’s musical side with this groovy board book. Daniel wants to be a drummer, but he doesn’t have any drums of his own, so he improvises using items he finds around the house. Full of fun onomatopoeia (aka, sound words) that make this book perfect for reading aloud, the story also promotes problem-solving and imaginative play.

Oh, and did we mention that Todd Sucherman (the drummer for Styx) loves this book?

How cool is that?!

If we’ve sufficiently piqued your interest, enter to win an advance copy of I Want to Be a Drummer! on Goodreads!

WWAQ cover

When We Are Quiet by Stacy Sims,
illustrated by Sharareh Khosravani

In our ever more fast-paced, plugged-in world, does anyone remember what it’s like to not feel busy? Rooted in the City Silence Project (founded by Sims) and its mission of slowing down the world, turning off our digital devices, and turning on our capacity for stillness, wonder, and creativity, this board book is an introduction to mindfulness for your youngest readers. Unwind before bed by sitting quietly together and listening, and see what sounds you can discover in the silence!

Lean more about the wonderful things the City Silence Project is doing here. And if you have a Goodreads account, why not enter to win a free copy of the book here?

Words For Me!

Words For Me! by Sarah Jones

We call this gem “an old-school word book for the modern baby.” The latest addition to Jones’s ROYGBaby series, this board book helps little ones recognize and name the objects in their world, from food to family to vehicles and more. But much like her other books, Jones puts her own spin on the text by including words that you might not see in a traditional word book. In addition to learning cat and ball, for example, readers will also encounter beet, harmonica, and oven mitt. It’s a must-have bookshelf staple for beginning libraries!

If this all sounds good to you, enter to win a free copy of Words For Me! on Goodreads!

Picture Books

Sleepy Solar System cover

Sleepy Solar System by Dr. John Hutton, illustrated by Doug Cenko

Aspiring astronauts and space explorers, prepare to see the planets like you’ve never seen them before: getting ready for bed! Young readers will be amused and delighted to recognize parts of their own nighttime routines in those of the planets, as they read stories, put on pajamas, wash dusty heads, and ask for one more hug and kiss. For bonus reading, check out the distance chart and list of fun facts at the end to really send your imagination soaring!

See a full preview of Sleepy Solar System on our Pinterest page. And of course you could win a free copy in this Goodreads Giveaway!

ADHMe cover

ADH-Me! by Dr. John Hutton, illustrated by Lisa M. Griffin

You read that right; Dr. John has TWO picture books releasing this fall! But this book has a more specific audience in mind: children who have been diagnosed with ADHD. With over 10 percent of U.S. children diagnosed each year (most before age 6), this book is an excellent resource for children just beginning the journey to successfully managing ADHD. Both empowering and empathetic, ADH-Me! includes additional resources to help educate families and give children the tools to succeed.

The giveaway for ADH-Me! has unfortunately ended. However, if you’re anxious to see the book before September 6th, stop by blue manatee children’s bookstore and check out their fall preview display!


That’s all we’ve got for today! We hope you enjoyed this preview and found a few books to add to your library. We can’t wait for the official release of the books on September 6th—just a couple weeks away!

Until next time!


Back to School (Plus a Printable!)

Sorry for the long absence there, ManaFriends! Things have been busy at the store lately, especially with the release of the new Harry Potter book. But we’re hoping to get back on track here. We can’t believe it’s already August!

Parents, you know what that means: it’s time to start thinking about the start of a new school year. The thought is both exciting and anxiety-producing, particularly after such a long break. A lot of schools require summer reading for this reason, to prevent the “summer slide” during almost three months of vacation. But for many schools, while summer reading is encouraged, it is not required (and regardless, getting your kids to read during summer vacation can sometimes feel like pulling teeth).

However, it is so important to keep kids reading during summer vacation, in whatever way you can. And even if you have been taking a break, it’s not too late to ease back into the reading routine before the start of school! Just for you, we have a list of some fantastic early reader books for back-to-school, plus a printable reading scavenger hunt. The scavenger hunt is designed for early readers (around first and second grade), but it can easily be adapted to fit a more advanced reader.

Round up your little readers and send them on a book-themed scavenger hunt, just in time for a new school year! Click the book covers below for more information.



Download the printable scavenger hunt here



Early Reader Books for Back-to-School

Greetings From Somewhere

Greetings From Somewhere series by Harper Paris

Go around the world in 10 books with this early reader mystery series, which combines geography with critical thinking and problem solving. Twins Ethan and Ella get to visit all kinds of different places with their travel-writer mother and professor father, but in each new city they also find themselves caught up in a new mystery. From Venice, Italy to Mumbai, India, Ethan and Ella are always finding new adventures in interesting places!


Nikki and Deja series by Karen English

Written by an award-winning author, this series follows two best friends as they navigate all the problems that elementary school can throw at them. From mean girls to substitute teachers to conflicts between friends, Nikki and Deja are learning a lot about life, but at least they have each other!

notebook of doom

The Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings

When Alexander Bopp moves to Stermont, weird things start to happen. First he finds a notebook full of monster drawings; then he starts seeing monsters all around town! Can Alexander stop them before they take over? Designed to help boost reading confidence, this is a perfect series for reluctant or struggling readers.

Anna Hibiscus

Anna Hibiscus series by Atinuke, illustrated by Lauren Tobia

Explore amazing Africa with Anna Hibiscus, who lives there with her parents (her father is African and her mother is Canadian) and her twin brothers, Double and Trouble. She also lives with her grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins, so there are always lots of people around to play with!


Captain Awesome series by Stan Kirby, illustrated by
George O’Connor

If your kids prefer books with lots of pictures, the Captain Awesome series is a great pick. Imaginative second grader Eugene McGillicudy loves comic books and superheroes so much that he invents his very own superhero alter ego named Captain Awesome. And while Captain Awesome protects his town from all kinds of “bad guys,” he also has to navigate starting a new school, making friends, and more. Luckily, Captain Awesome can do anything!

Alvin Ho

Alvin Ho series by Lenore Look

This comical series about a second-grade boy with a laundry list of phobias has been compared to Diary of a Wimpy Kid, but for a younger audience. Worry-prone kids can find a kindred spirit in Alvin as he faces new fears with help from his family and friends.

Battle Bugs banner

Battle Bugs series by Jack Patton

This is one of our favorites—and for good reason! Boys and girls interested in anything that buzzes, crawls, or flies will adore this action-packed series. The main character, Max, finds a magic bug encyclopedia that shrinks him to insect-size and transports him to Bug Island, where he must help the bugs defend their home against the Reptilian Empire. Interested? Check out our previous blog post about Battle Bugs to learn more!


Ranger in Time series by Kate Messner

We’ll be honest: this series had us at “time-traveling golden retriever.” Ranger’s a search-and-rescue dog in training, but his impulsive spirit prevents him from passing the test. Luckily, Ranger finds that he can put his skills to good use helping people from all throughout history!

What are some of your favorite early reader series? Tell us in the comments below!