Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

The 2020 Project: Author Beth Kephart Interviews a Teen with Marfan Syndrome

Beth Kephart’s new middle grade novel, The Great Upending (Atheneum, March 31, 2020), was written for Becca Weust, a young woman Kephart encountered during the course of her work as a writer of patient stories. The novel’s heroine is a girl named Sara. Sara has Marfan syndrome and her loving family—farmers in a drought-afflicted region—cannot afford the potentially lifesaving care she needs. Here, Kephart interviews Becca herself about the life she lives, her passion for libraries, and her hopes for all those with chronic illnesses.

Tell us something about your childhood—your fondest memories, the hopes you had as a little girl, the life your parents and sister created with you.

Oh, my mom’s side of the family has a farm and every year when I was little we would go on a big tractor-pulled hayride around the property and the little community area it was next to. Reading The Great Upending I can still smell the hay and mud, feed, and animals in a really visceral way. I hear the giggling of my cousins and my sister, feel the scratch of the hay of baling twine. I see my grandfather’s massive silhouette hauling 70-pound bags of feed not far from 70 himself. I loved being in the dirt and grass and mud and bugs as a kid, so escaping from the suburbs was a treat. To this day being out in nature and the dirt feels like family. 

What were the first hints, for you, of Marfan syndrome? 

It wasn’t so much hints as a life-changing stroke of luck. Around four I started complaining that my eyes hurt and my parents noticed that I didn’t seem to see things like a deer if it was off at a distance. My pediatrician referred us to specialists at UW Madison Children’s Clinic at my mom’s insistence that my eyes were “wiggly.” Once we got there Dr. Kushner took one look at what we would come to know as “textbook” Marfan markers. He didn’t want to scare my parents but he referred me to his colleague for testing and confirmation. I often wonder whether, if my mom hadn’t pushed my pediatrician and gotten me to a noted specialist, I would have gotten seriously injured before I’d ever heard of Marfan.

How did having Marfan begin to change the life you were living, your experience of the world?

When I was a child the biggest thing I was aware of was that I could not, under any circumstances, push myself. If I started to feel a certain way running or playing, I was to stop immediately or my medication would stop me and that would be a bad thing. I chaffed at not being able to run like the other kids, and that was my biggest complaint for a long time. As I grew older, I started to hurt a lot more, and with the hurting came fatigue and the need for long rest to recover after daily activities. I hated going to church because standing and sitting so still and upright for so long dropped my blood pressure so low that I’d start to faint. Friends wondered why I wasn’t at events or gatherings and thought I was avoiding them. I didn’t have the vocabulary or understanding to communicate what I was going through. Worse, I was embarrassed by it. I did my best to hide it because I felt like I just couldn’t keep up and that it was my fault.

You have undergone an arduous journey of diagnoses, surgeries, personal investigations into possibilities—enough to fill the pages of an entire book or more. Can you offer us a capsule glimpse?

Hmm, that’s difficult. Finding a diagnosis or treatment is chaotic. Every once in a while, the planets will align and you will find the right place, the right team, and it will feel like magic. But it’s usually a long war of persistence. For example, it wasn’t until this past year that we had any real idea of what was happening with my brain and spine—what was giving me the symptoms that have left me frequently bedridden for more than six years. Since it is difficult to get referrals, navigate insurance, and find specialists, chronically ill patients and their caregivers have to do a lot of labor if they expect a diagnosis, let alone treatment. People with chronic illnesses usually keep a careful log of what helped and hurt, their diet, environmental factors, the questions they have for specialists. We sometimes get pushback for our advocacy as being disrespectful to medical experts. But if I don’t do this kind of work, I can end up in the right department but the wrong sub-specialty, charged for an appointment that doesn’t help me, or given a recommendation for a treatment that is usually safe for the larger population but likely dangerous for me. 

How are you today?

Oh boy, I try to avoid asking myself questions like this; I usually don’t like the answer! I hurt and I’m tired and there is so much more that I want to be doing. I struggle a lot with my mental health but I’m not an ‘unhappy” person. I’m lucky to have a small group of family members and friends who love and support me unconditionally so that I’m not suffering, but things do get really difficult. I’ve learned to find the purest pleasure in simple things. I love falling down information holes about natural science or history on the internet. I am spoiled by my local library’s ecat, which keeps me sane even if I can’t stalk the stacks. (Thank you!) My greatest passions lay with the chaos that is my cat, a flakey pastry, and an interesting cup of tea. As long as I have these things I’ll keep plugging onward.

What do you want others to understand about the experience you have had, are having?

That many of the things that make chronic illness so difficult are not unsolvable. That we have the research and understanding to create better accessibility to communities and healthcare. That chronic illness and some form of disability is something that will touch every person at some point. It’s not an othering thing. It is a very human thing to have dynamic strengths and weaknesses, and it benefits us all to work on better meeting those needs. But, more personally, chronic illness is lonely, I don’t want anyone’s pity, but I cherish the friends that have stuck around and continue to reach out to me… They mean everything. Thank you, Elle. Thank you, Gina. Thank you, James. Thank you dearest Seester, Alison.

What can librarians and teachers and any caring adults do to help communicate the importance of understanding what people like you are going through?

That we have the same kinds of aspirations and hobbies as everyone else but we have to get creative in how we approach them (access, time, energy).That creativity is a great thing to cultivate but it takes a lot a work—work that we would have to do less of if public and private spaces thought more about accessibility. Activities must be accessible and safe, not just for people with mobility issues but for people with issues with things like IBS (unquestioned access to safe restrooms). Having a space for neurodivergent people to decompress is another good way to help those isolated by access issues to get out in the world. If in doubt the best way to ensure your events are inclusive is to ensure that adults with those conditions are involved in the planning process. I firmly believe that taking part in community building is the best way any two people can grow to understand each other.

What is the biggest thing on your mind right now?

The biggest thing on my mind right now is fear. Fear of time. I’ve spoken with Beth about how scared I was of ‘growing up.’ Even at seven, I knew (despite my parents sheltering) that my medical care was costly and that it was a small miracle that my parents had a plan that covered me. I had a pre-existing condition. Every birthday that came around I wondered at what point I’d be old enough that insurance wouldn’t care about me, about my life. I knew there was a cut off, and every birthday, every appointment or test brought me closer to some bureaucratic guillotine. I hate feeling that childish helpless fear again. The ACA passed while I was entering college, and though it didn’t solve everything, it lifted so much weight from my mind; I didn’t feel like I wasn’t a ticking time bomb . But with renewed attacks on SSI/SSDI and the ACA itself. It feels like a backwards slide into eugenics. I feel like I need to hide again. Unfortunately, I don’t think I’m alone in that fear. 

Also dolophones pilosa! They’re spiders! That can completely flatten their bodies around a branch! My brain is still chewing on it. Don’t worry, though. Like many of the best things they live in Australia.

Beth Kephart writer/teacher bethkephartbooks.com
The Great Upending, forthcoming March 2020, Caitlyn Dlouhy, Atheneum (Simon & Schuster)

*Booklist Review: “Further plot twists lead to an unexpected ending, which readers who love good storytelling and spirited heroines will find satisfying. National Book Award nominee Kephart’s latest is ultimately as refreshing as rainfall on a dry field.”

Cloud Hopper, forthcoming October 2020, Penny Candy Press

Wife|Daughter|Self: a memoir in essays, forthcoming February 2021, Forest Avenue Press 

Novels in Verse for National Poetry Month Week 1, by Lisa Krok

April is National Poetry Month, so let’s celebrate with novels in verse! I have been posting a verse novel on Twitter @readonthebeach each day, along with a corresponding poetry activity. Click here for my previous post about using my book, Novels in Verse for Teens to reach marginalized and reluctant/striving readers.

National Poetry Month is a great time to introduce or reintroduce teens to this genre and its many forms. Here we go!

Day 1: Ordinary Hazards: A Memoir by Nikki Grimes

Summary:

Nikki and her sister, Carol, live with their mentally ill mother after their father leaves. When alcoholism and schizophrenia combine to make their mother unfit, Nikki and Carol are placed in foster care, and eventually separated. Three years later, mom remarries and Nikki returns to her care, which includes a new nefarious stepfather. Throughout the trials of an unstable home life, Nikki makes the library her new best friend.

Poetry activity:

Since the library was a shining diamond in young Nikki’s life, diamante poems are a perfect fit to pair with this book. Diamantes are diamond shaped poems that follow a specific form. Click on this link for details:

How to write a diamante poem  

Day 2: Solo by Kwame Alexander

Summary:

Born into rock star royalty, Blade clings to his girlfriend, Chapel, in the absence of his deceased mother and addicted, unreliable father, Rutherford. When Blade is humiliated by Rutherford drunkenly crashing into his high school graduation speech, he loses Chapel and much of his hope. When a hidden family secret is unearthed, Blade travels to Ghana to unravel his own history and attempt to rebuild.

Poetry activity:

Rutherford Morrison certainly got on Blade’s nerves pretty regularly. Writing a clerihew would have likely been a good way for him to vent. A clerihew is basically a poetic way to roast someone. Follow this link for details:  Clerihew activity

Day 3: With a Star in My Hand: Rubén Darío, Poetry Hero

by Margarita Engle                          

Summary:             

After a farmer finds him abandoned as a small boy in a cow pasture, Ruben is adopted by his great uncle and his wife. He does not know what happened to his Mama. Self-taught to read at three years old, Ruben learns to trade rhymes for treats, and reads to improve his rhymes. Throughout falling in love, heartbreak, family secrets, natural disasters, smallpox, poverty, drinking, and travel, poetry is always where he finds hope, the star in his hand.

Poetry activity:

One type of poetry Ruben wrote was redondilla. This is a Spanish verse form in which each stanza consists of four lines, each with eight syllables, and a rhyme scheme ABBA. This means that the first and last lines will rhyme, and the second and third lines will rhyme.

Day 4: White Rose by Kip Wilson

Summary:

Sophie Scholl and her brother write and distribute anonymous letters criticizing the Nazi regime and informing their fellow German citizens. The next year, Sophie and her brother were arrested for treason and interrogated to provide information about their collaborators in this rebellion. This novel in verse reports on their lives and their brave stance against the Nazis.

Poetry activity:

Sophie Scholl and her brother passed out zines to protest the Nazi regime. Sometimes poets call them “chapbooks”, but the term zine is more common today. Follow this link to learn how to create a zine.  Zine Making 101

Day 5: Shout by Laurie Halse Anderson

Summary:

Twenty years after her haunting novel Speak was published, Laurie Halse Anderson follows up with this vulnerable, compelling memoir in verse that advocates for those suffering from sexual assault. The demand for consent is explicit, and is both an acknowledgement and rally cry for survivors. Raw, spirited, and timeless, readers are urged to not just speak but to SHOUT their voices loud and clear.

Poetry activity:

Laurie says writing this helped heal her heart. Try writing a “Heal Your Heart Haiku” using 3 lines of 5-7-5 syllables each. See Laurie’s comments in this video.

Day 6: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Summary:

After Will’s brother Shawn is shot and killed, Will knows what he is expected to do. The rules: no crying, no snitching, get revenge. With a piece shoved into the back of his jeans, he steps into the elevator. As the elevator doors open at each floor, Will is greeted by ghosts of sorts from his past who challenge his thoughts. Are seven floors and sixty seconds enough time for him to decide what to do?

Poetry activity:

Long Way Downtakes place over the course of sixty seconds. When Will steps off the elevator onto the first floor, readers don’t know his decision. Will he seek revenge as planned, or did his long way down with the visitors in the elevator change his mind? Armed with pencil, paper, and a stopwatch or timer (most phones have them) – write your own free verse ending to this storyin just sixty seconds! When time is up, flip your paper over and write a different ending in just sixty seconds. This can also be done in seven sections of sixty second intervals, to represent the seven floors as Will descends in the elevator. Be creative, this ending could take many paths!

Day 7: The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

Summary:

As Celi Rivera’s body is changing, her mother is insisting on an ancestral ritual that Mima’s community has reclaimed. Celi does NOT want to participate and wants to take a stand. She is full of questions about her changing body, her best friend questioning being gender fluid, and her first attraction to a boy.

Poetry activity:

Celi has been participating in the Puerto Rican drum dance, bomba. Bomba involves a connection and a challenge between the drummer and the dancer. First, watch this bomba video . If you have a music department in your school with a drum you can borrow, do so. If you don’t have access to a real drum, improvise by using any item that resonates with a sound similar to a drum. After watching the bomba video, have students with pencils ready as the beat begins. Leader beats the drum in a myriad of rhythms for 15 seconds or so at a time, as teens write free verse poetry coordinated to that beat. Generally, faster beats will have more words of lesser syllables, while slower beats may induce verse with fewer words having more syllables. Try this first with the  leader as the drummer, then given teens a chance to be the drummer while their friends write. Alternatively, download some bomba music and write that way, although the beats will change more frequently, creating more of a challenge when writing.

-Lisa Krok

Find all of these activities and much more in Novels in Verse for Teens, available now.

Buy from Barnes & Noble

Buy from Amazon

Add it on Goodreads

Request it at your Indies.

Lisa Krok, MLIS, MEd, is the adult and teen services manager at Morley Library and a former teacher in the Cleveland, Ohio, area. She is the author of Novels in Verse for Teens: A Guidebook with Activities for Teachers and Librarians, available now from ABC-CLIO. Lisa’s passion is reaching marginalized teens and reluctant readers through young adult literature. She was appointed to the 2019-2020 YALSA Presidential Advisory Task Force, served two years on the Quick Picks for Reluctant Reader’s team, and is serving on the Best Fiction for Young Adults (BFYA 2021) committee. Lisa can be found being bookish and political on Twitter @readonthebeach.

Friday Finds: April 3, 2020

Is it Friday already? What day is it? I think it must be Friday.

This Week at TLT

My debut novel is coming out…in the middle of a global pandemic, a guest post by Liz Lawson

Book Review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Price is Right Game, by Cindy Shutts

Girl, You Crack Me Up! Funny Female Authors in Middle Grade Fiction, a conversation with authors Jessica Kim and Arianne Costner

Turner Syndrome and Representation, a guest post by Sarah Allen

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2020 Showcase: Quests, anxiety, ghosts, rom-coms, and more!

New Books Alert: Folktales, Chernobyl, stand-up comedy, and more!

Making More Materials Discoverable in OverDrive: Curating Collections, a guest post by Kathryn King

March ARC Party: A look at the new MG and YA lit coming your way in March 2020

Sunday Reflections: The Story of the Tree is Our Story, a story of love and loss in the time of pandemic

Around the Web

Collecting Unemployment When You’re Self-Employed

9 Out Of 10 Children Are Out Of School Worldwide. What Now?

Disney Publishing Releases Online Reading Guidelines

Jason Reynolds Is the Bard of Black YA Fiction. Now He’s Written a Totally Different Kind of Book.

Best Fiction for Young Adults (#BFYA2021) Nominees Round Up, April 3 Edition

EveryLibrary Creates Fund to Help Library Workers in Need

A great roundup of learning from home resources by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

My debut novel is coming out…in the middle of a global pandemic, a guest post by Liz Lawson

I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I have been rotating in and out of depression since all of this started a month ago. I’m sure I am not alone in this. The world right now is… heavy. So, so heavy. And I, like so many people, feel helpless, confused, fearful…a rotating kaleidoscope of emotions that are mostly negative.

I want to be clear: this isn’t a call for pity. Far from it. My depression (for the most part) wasn’t because of personal issues. It was because… you know… the world. The world that is both showing how pained it can become and how much its people are willing and able to come together for each other. There is so much trauma right now happening, but there are also daily stories of people coming together, supporting local businesses to the best of their ability, doing small favors for elderly or high-risk neighbors and family. I have several friends who are likely going to give birth this month. New life is still happening, all around us.

But, last weekend I was sad. Very very sad. About why this all happened and what is happening right now and what might happen in the future. Just like so many of you are. Just like most of us. All the uncertainty is so hard to grapple with and live inside. My ability to handle it changes with every passing hour.

And, last weekend, my author copies arrived. Of my debut, my debut that I had worked on for YEARS and years (that is honestly some thirty-three years in the making).

All of them showed up yesterday.

I opened the box and bawled. It wasn’t a joyous bawl. It wasn’t excited or proud or anything that I’d imagined. I bawled because it was yet another (tiny) reminder of what has been taken from us. I was sad. So, so sad.

So I did what I do when I’m sad. I talked to people. My husband. My family. My friends. And talked. And talked some more.

And, finally, I was reminded – hours (and hours and an entire nighttime) later, what I had forgotten: That we are in this together. That feeling joy in the midst of enormously painful, world changing situations isn’t selfish.

It is COURAGEOUS.

I was reminded that a human being can both be very, very sad about one thing and feel happy, too. That feelings can exist simultaneously. That it is okay (actually, healthy) for them to. It is human. What we are experiencing right now is HUMAN. Our grief and our happiness and the hope that still exists in the world—that is what makes all of us uniquely human.

In THE LUCKY ONES, my characters grapple with similar emotional upheaval. May lost her brother in a school shooting a year prior to the opening of the book, and she is still in pain. She is struggling and pushing back against a world that let her down so completely. But, through meeting Zach and through the help of her friends, she learns that she can still feel hope. That not only can she feel it—that it is OKAY for her to feel. She gives herself permission to feel both the negatives and the positives of our world.

Please know that if you are sad, you are not alone. If you are depressed, yup, same here. If you are feeling joy – that is okay too.

We are in this together.

Pre-order THE LUCKY ONES from Skylight Books in Los Angeles.

Meet Liz Lawson

Photo credit: Jenn KL Photography

Liz Lawson has been writing for most of her life in one way or another. She has her Masters in Communications with a Concentration in Rhetoric from Villanova University, and has written for a variety of publications including PASTE MAGAZINE. When she’s not writing, she works as a music supervisor for film & television. Liz resides in Los Angeles, CA, where she lives with an adorable toddler, a fantastic husband, and two VERY bratty cats. You can find her on Instagram and Twitter at @lzlwsn.

About The Lucky Ones by Liz Lawson

For fans of Thirteen Reasons WhyThis Is How It Ends, and All the Bright Places, comes a new novel about life after. How do you put yourself back together when it seems like you’ve lost it all?

May is a survivor. But she doesn’t feel like one. She feels angry. And lost. And alone. Eleven months after the school shooting that killed her twin brother, May still doesn’t know why she was the only one to walk out of the band room that day. No one gets what she went through—no one saw and heard what she did. No one can possibly understand how it feels to be her.

Zach lost his old life when his mother decided to defend the shooter. His girlfriend dumped him, his friends bailed, and now he spends his time hanging out with his little sister…and the one faithful friend who stuck around. His best friend is needy and demanding, but he won’t let Zach disappear into himself. Which is how Zach ends up at band practice that night. The same night May goes with her best friend to audition for a new band.

Which is how May meets Zach. And how Zach meets May. And how both might figure out that surviving could be an option after all.

ISBN-13: 9780593118498
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Review: Somebody Told Me by Mia Siegert

Publisher’s description

A novel of trauma, identity, and survival.

After an assault, bigender seventeen-year-old Aleks/Alexis is looking for a fresh start—so they voluntarily move in with their uncle, a Catholic priest. In their new bedroom, Aleks/Alexis discovers they can overhear parishioners in the church confessional. Moved by the struggles of these “sinners,” Aleks/Alexis decides to anonymously help them, finding solace in their secret identity: a guardian angel instead of a victim.


But then Aleks/Alexis overhears a confession of another priest admitting to sexually abusing a parishioner. As they try to uncover the priest’s identity before he hurts anyone again, Aleks/Alexis is also forced to confront their own abuser and come to terms with their past trauma.

Amanda’s thoughts

It’s not often that I run across a book where I think, wow, this setting and some of these characters are not like anything I’ve ever read before in YA. That’s not to say they don’t exist anywhere—try as I may, I can’t read all the YA books ever published—but they were new and unique to me. Given that I read hundreds of books a year, many of the particulars eventually get lost as they get buried under new things I’ve read, but Siegert’s characters and setting will stick with me.

It’s the summer before senior year and queer, bigender Alexis/Aleks moves into a rectory with their aunt and uncle. They have decided they won’t present as male while there because it will avoid drama and negativity with/from their aunt and uncle. Readers don’t know for a while what exactly has caused Alexis/Aleks to flee home, where they have supportive and loving parents, to seek a safer place. A nasty, shame-filled voice in their head constantly berates them and accuses them of being a fraud, of not being good enough, of being worthless. Eventually readers come to know what caused Alexis/Aleks to stop going to cons, to give up cosplaying, and to leave their home, and this information will inform the rest of what goes on in the story.

While living with their aunt and uncle, Alexis/Aleks makes new friends: Dima, who wants to attend seminary, Deacon Jameson, and Sister Bernadette. All of these characters are within a few years of Alexis/Aleks’s age and provide not just friendship but also conflict and confusion. And once Alexis/Aleks overhears the horrifying confession (from an unknown confessor) about a priest sexually abusing young boys, those conflicts and confusions (and friendships) grow even more important and uncertain.

Much of this story has to do with when Alexis/Aleks cosplayed as a beautiful boy character and was endlessly objectified and exploited (and eventually assaulted). They is a lot of thoughtful rumination on not only cosplay and roles but gender and faith/religion too. The last many chapters of the book take a very dark turn as the characters (and readers) work out who the abuser is and what to do about it.

Addressing and grappling with secrets, identity, trauma, lies, and survival, this story is not a light read. There is misgendering, homophobia, transphobia, abuse and assault, murder, kidnapping, and other difficult to read and possibly triggering events and ideas. While it’s not possible to say I “enjoyed” this story (that’s too nice of a word for such a trauma-filled book), I did find it suspenseful, unexpected, thoughtful, and compelling.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781541578197
Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group

Publication date: 04/07/2020
Age Range: 13 – 18 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Price is Right Game, by Cindy Shutts

When my brother and I were kids, we used to love to watch and then play The Prices is Right during the summer, so I was pleased as punch to hear that Cindy Shutts had put together a version of the game while sheltering in place.

In Illinois we have been given the order to shelter in place. There are a lot of games you can play but for my family who I live with (my parents) I made my own version of The Price is Right which can easily be a program.

Supplies:

  • Random items to be priced
  • Notecards to write the prices on

Step One: I played the theme song from the show and did the famous “come on down your are our first contest on the Price is Right.”

Step Two: I picked a random item I had at my house and asked them what the retail price on Amazon was. The first person to get the answer closer to the price without going over wins this round and advances to the next game.

Step Three: I chose pretty easy games to play. This first contestant game I chose was high or lower. I had five books and I asked them if the list price was high or lower than the price I gave them. I had no prizes but if I did this at the library I would have given candy. My dad got three of five so he moved on to the showcase showdown.

Check out this Price is Right themed party for some decoration ideas

Pinterest Board of Price is Right Games and Ideas

Step Four: I had my mom come up to play the item game. She did well.

Step Five: The game I chose to play was a household item with the wrong price and all the numbers higher one up or one lower.

There are a lot of games you can modify to work at home or at your library.  You will need more games since I modified my home version for just two players.

Here is the list of price games: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_The_Price_Is_Right_pricing_games

Step Six: I did not do this step since I only had two players. The wheel is one of the most iconic parts of the game. I would have used my 10 sided die to simulate the game. Roll one ten sided die then roll the same ten-sided die to get the second number. In this game the person closer to a dollar without going over goes on to the Showcase Showdown. This game is done twice in the show.

Step Seven: Showcase Showdown. I used an old receipt to make this game. I read what was on the receipt and both of my parents had to guess the price. My mom guessed only 45 cents off and won the game. One way to make the game more exciting is to pick a variety of items from Amazon and print out pictures and have them guess how much the items are in total.

Make a DIY Plinko Board

Final Thoughts: I loved this. I want to bring this to the library and I feel like this will be such a wonderful program for the teens.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

cindy

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.FacebookTwitterShare

Girl, You Crack Me Up! Funny Female Authors in Middle Grade Fiction, a conversation with authors Jessica Kim and Arianne Costner

Hey all! I am Arianne Costner, author of MY LIFE AS A POTATO. Fun fact: This post also includes pictures of Jessica and I jumping out of an airplane!

And I am Jessica Kim, author of STAND UP, YUMI CHUNG. Isn’t it wild that our debut books are out there in the world now? Feels like just yesterday when we met for the first time. 

A: It does! I remember meeting up over the summer with some other writer friends. We were excited because our books have one thing in common–they’re both marketed as humorous. We realized that we both have a love for comedy and want to see more of it, especially written by females. We’ve done lots of fun things together since then–even skydiving! I’ll attach a pic of that below! So I’ll kick this convo off and ask you, Jessica: Why is writing comedy important to you?

J: Personally, funny books are the ones I like to read the most. I tend to gravitate toward people who have a good sense of humor, so it makes sense that the characters I end up loving are also the ones who can make me laugh. 

I think comedy is especially important during tough times, too. It can give readers an escape when things are too serious or scary outside. Sometimes, laughter is the best medicine, right? 

I also think it’s important that girls see funny books written by other girls, because the comedy genre is pretty male-dominated. Why do you think that is, anyway? 

A: I’m not sure! In trade reviews (and non-trade reviews alike,) I’ve been compared to authors like Jeff Kinney, Gordon Korman, Lincoln Pierce, and Chris Grabenstein. It’s flattering of course because I LOVE these guys! But it’s interesting that I’ve never been compared to a female author–not that I’ve seen, anyway. This could be because I have a boy main character, and books with boy MCs are often written by males. It’s glaring, though, that there aren’t as many females thriving in this space of “goofy” middle school stories. 

Honestly, it’s been a little intimidating. At times I’ve worried that kids would see my name on a book and decide it wasn’t going to be as funny. Earlier on, I even considered going by A.L. Costner to keep my gender ambiguous, but then I thought, you know what? No way! Girls need to see female authors write books like this! Besides, kids today are very keen and I never want to underestimate them. 

What about you? Did you ever feel intimidated trying to write a funny book?

J: I didn’t necessarily feel intimidated while writing the book, because funny books are the only ones I know how to write, but when I was promoting my book, I noticed I was often the only woman on the funny book panels. What’s that all about? I really hope that changes quickly because the world is missing out on some awesome hilarious-girl content! Speaking of which, can you share your process of creating humor? How did you know a joke was landing?

A: I tested most of the quips on my husband, and he is very honest–brutally honest, sometimes, but that’s why he’s helpful! I also did lots of good old Youtube and Google searches about creating humor and humorous scenarios. We are so lucky to have a world of resources at our fingertips! And of course, I read other books for inspiration. Speaking of which, I’m curious: Who are some of your favorite funny female authors?

J: I’m a big fan of Dusti Bowling, Remy Lai, Lisa Yee, and Booki Vivat. They crack me up. What about yours?

A: First of all, YOU obviously haha. I also love Niki Lenz and all of the authors you mentioned above! If we are going to kick it old school, Judy Blume is fantastic. I grew up reading her Fudge series. Louise Rennison is a crack up and a total inspiration! And, of course, Renee Watson is an icon. Since it’s April Fools Day, I have to finish by asking: What was your favorite April Fools joke you’ve played?

J: Well, this didn’t happen on April Fool’s Day, but once my friends and I mixed some spicy wasabi into our friend’s green tea ice cream while she was in the restroom. We thought it’d be hilarious but then she started coughing and her eyes started watering and she turned bright red and I was afraid we were going to have to call an ambulance. I’ve been wary of playing pranks of anyone ever since. Though I did see this hilarious thing on the internet where someone scratched creepy messages onto some bananas (like: I know what you did or HELP or DO NOT EAT etc) for unsuspecting grocery buyers to discover as the bananas brown a few days later. I’d never do that though! What about you?

A: Oh, the banana thing sounds hilarious! We are all a little wary around produce right now haha, so maybe not the best prank for this year! Growing up, my siblings and I would TP my parent’s bedroom on April Fool’s Day. That wouldn’t go over well these days, amiright?

J: With toilet paper being such a scarce commodity these days, it may be more of a favor than a prank. In any case, I hope you have a delightful April Fool’s Day and thanks so much for chatting with me. And also thanks to those who listened in on our conversation! We hope you’ll check out our books linked below.

Signing off!

Arianne and Jessica

And as promised, here are pictures of Jessica and I jumping out of an airplane. Have a great April Fool’s Day, everyone!

Meet Arianne Costner

Arianne Costner lives in the middle of the desert with her husband and three children. She is a former English teacher who believes that writers should crack up at their own jokes. When she isn’t writing, she can be found playing the piano and composing music. Her favorite kind of potato is the tater tot, with mashed potatoes coming in close second—as long as they’re not gluey.

Arianne’s twitter: @ariannecostner Arianne’s IG: @authorariannecostner.   website: ariannecostner.com 

Meet Jessica Kim

Jessica Kim writes about Asian American girls dfinding their way in the world. Before she was an author, Jessica studied education at UC Berkeley and spent ten years teaching third, fourth, and fifth grades in public schools. Like Yumi, Jessica lives with her family in Southern California and can’t get enough Hot Cheetos, stand-up comedy, BTS, and Korean barbecue.

Jessica’s twitter: @jesskimwrites IG:  @jesskimwrites. website: jesskimwrites.com

About My Life as a Potato by Arianne Costner

For anyone who has ever felt like a potato in middle school, this hilarious story about a boy forced to become the dorkiest school mascot ever will have readers cheering!

Ben Hardy believes he’s cursed by potatoes. And now he’s moved to Idaho, where the school’s mascot is Steve the Spud! Yeah, this cannot be good.

After accidentally causing the mascot to sprain an ankle, Ben is sentenced to Spud duty for the final basketball games of the year. But if the other kids know he’s the Spud, his plans for popularity are likely to be a big dud! Ben doesn’t want to let the team down, so he lies to his friends to keep it a secret. No one will know it’s him under the potato suit . . . right?

Life as a potato is all about not getting mashed! With laugh-out-loud illustrations throughout, hand to fans of James Patterson, Gordan Korman, Jeff Kinney, and Chris Grabenstein!

ISBN-13: 9780593118665
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Arianne’s local indie is Red Rock Books (order from here to get a signed book of MY LIFE AS A POTATO).   

About Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim

One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura—and Yumi doesn’t correct them.

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

ISBN-13: 9780525554974
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 03/17/2020
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Jessica’s local indie is

Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore (order from here and get a signed nameplate along with STAND UP,  YUMI CHUNG! ).

Turner Syndrome and Representation, a guest post by Sarah Allen

I was born XO, which does not stand for hugs and kisses.

Lots of things became chaotic when I was born. I had something called omphalocele, which means my intestines were sticking out through a hole in my stomach where my belly button should have been. I was rushed to surgery before my mom was able to hold me. In the NICU, recovering from surgery number one, doctors discovered that there was another problem, one even more life-threatening. There was a constriction in my aortic valve, causing my heart to pump so hard it was growing way beyond safe size. This meant another surgery.

Oddly enough, it was something as simple as my uniquely puffy hands and feet that tipped one of my many incredible doctors off to the real underlying cause of all the medical drama. They ran some tests and confirmed the doctor’s suspicion. My dramatic entry into the world was the result of a genetic disorder called Turner syndrome.

An average person is born with 46 chromosomes. In girls, two of those chromosomes are XX. Not in girls with Turner syndrome. Turner syndrome means you are born with only one X instead of two. A missing X, for a total of 45 chromosomes.

XO.

There are a few core things that come with having Turner syndrome. Short stature is one, and I took growth hormone shots starting at age eight that helped me reach my happy five-foot-four. Another aspect is infertility. Many also deal with heart or kidney problems, some vision or hearing loss, and physical characteristics such as low-set ears, wide neck, and barrel-shaped ribs. It can also come accompanied by learning disabilities such as Non-verbal Learning Disorder.

Here’s the thing, though. With some support and determination, there’s nothing in this unique set of challenges to stop a Turners girl from living a normal, happy, even thrilling life of her choosing. My parents signed me up for the best school they could find, and put me in extracurriculars the same as all my other siblings. They expected self-sufficiency and hard work, and I learned from them that nothing could stop me from achieving what I wanted in my life. (Like publishing a book, maybe?)

But here’s the other thing: I never once saw myself represented in the books I read, or in any other media for that matter. I loved spunky girls like Ramona and Anne Shirley, but none of the characters ever looked quite like me, or was thinking about the uncommon challenges I was facing.

To be honest, this is not terribly surprising. Only 1 in 2500 girls is born XO. Only 1-2% of embryos with monosomy X are even carried to term, resulting in 10-20% of all miscarriages. But I knew girls like me were out there. In my gut I believed our stories mattered just like anyone else’s.

It took several other novels and help from professors in my MFA program at Brigham Young University, but I finally felt ready to tell a story about a girl with Turner syndrome.

And this is how Libby and WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF was born. I didn’t see my physical story, my body, represented in any of the books I read. Honestly, I felt like a pretty normal kid, a pretty normal person, and I would have given anything to find a book that told me, yeah, I was. I wanted to offer that to other readers.

STARS is about a girl who loves with everything she has, and never stops trying to help the most important people in her life despite her challenges. STARS is about the value inherent in every individual, no matter their circumstances or limitations, full stop. I wanted to reflect that individual worth to anyone who happened to pick up my book, no matter who they are, where they live, or what they look like.

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone.” This has always been my writing mantra. I wrote this book for the girls like me, and for any kid who feels themselves on the fringes of “normal.” I wrote it as a celebration of weirdness and individuality. I want every reader who picks up this book to leave assured of one important thing: you are what stars are made of.

Sarah grew up in Utah and currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. Like Libby in WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF, she was born with Turner syndrome. She has an MFA from Brigham Young University, and in her spare time can be found writing poetry and watching David Attenborough documentaries or Pixar movies. She is a hardcore fan of golden retrievers, leather jackets, and Colin Firth.

WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
FSG Books for Young Readers
On Sale: 03/31/2020
ISBN: 9780374313197
Ages 10-14

Sarah would love it if you could support her indie, Third Place Books, which is offering signed copies of WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2020 Showcase: Quests, anxiety, ghosts, rom-coms, and more!

Book mail is my favorite of all the mail. Our UPS guy probably hates me, but for me, the fact that I get packages of books delivered almost daily is VERY EXCITING!

All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to young readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, to my own school, my kid’s school, or in giveaways. I can’t read/review every book I get, but it’s fun to be able to sift through boxes and see what grabs my attention, and to see what books will find loving new homes with the right reader.

Pull out your TBR lists or get ready to add to the orders for books that stock your library or classroom shelves. Today I’m sharing with you forthcoming titles from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All annotations are from the publisher.

Middle grade

The Puppet’s Payback and Other Chilling Tales by Mary Downing Hahn (ISBN-13: 9780358067320 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 8-12)

The author of wildly popular ghost stories, Mary Downing Hahn has created a group of tales for fans of her “scary but not too scary” books. Even the stories without actual ghosts are spooky. Each tale turns something ordinary—a pigeon, a white dress, a stranger on the bus, a puppet—into a sinister link to to the supernatural. For the human characters, secrets from the past or careless behavior in the present can lead to serious trouble. All the stories have a young person as the central character, so all will resonate with young readers who enjoy the eerie, the creepy, and the otherworldly. In a concluding note, the author talks about how she came to write ghost stories.

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renee Treml (ISBN-13: 9780358311843 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 09/22/2020 Ages 8-12)

An action-packed graphic novel mystery with gentle humor and Bad Guys–style illustrations, perfect for dinosaur-loving emerging readers.

Hi there, I’m Sherlock Bones.

Who is Sherlock Bones, you ask? Well, I dont like to brag, but my trusty side-kick Watts says Im the greatest detective in our whole museum.

Dont you, Watts?

Watts . . . ?

Sherlock Bones and his sidekick, a stuffed parrot named Watts, live in a natural history museum. So when the precious Royal Blue Diamond goes missing, they are first on the case. What they don’t expect is Grace, a silly, new-to-the-scene raccoon who keeps getting in the way. Even worse, Bones and Watts learn that if the diamond isn’t recovered, the museum could (GASP!) close! Can they find the diamond before they’re forced to find another home?

Timo the Adventurer by Jonathan Garnier, Yohan Sacré (ISBN-13: 9780358360124 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 10/13/2020 Ages 8-12)

Having read every book in his tiny village, young Timo decides it is time to leave home and become a hero. And while that is easier said than done, Timo is determined to succeed. When he rescues an enchanted beast named Broof, Timo gains a gruff and reluctant ally. But little does good-hearted Timo suspect that Broof’s mysterious past will bring complications to his journey…. An engaging hero, surprising plot twists, and a host of fantastical creatures keep readers turning the pages of this spelling-binding fantasy.

No Place for Monsters by Kory Merritt (ISBN-13: 9780358128533 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 10/20/2020 Ages 8-12)

In this spellbinding, lavishly illustrated story that Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney calls “wildly imaginative and totally terrifying,” two unlikely friends face down their worst fears in order to stop their small town—and themselves—from disappearing.

Levi and Kat are about to discover a very dark side to their neighborhood.

Nothing ever seems out of place in the safe, suburban town of Cowslip Grove.?Lawns are neatly mowed, sidewalks are tidy, and?the sounds of ice cream trucks?fill the air.?But now . . . kids have been going missing—except no one even realizes it, because no one remembers them. Not their friends. Not their teachers. Not even their families.

But Levi and Kat do remember, and suddenly only they can see why?everyone is?in terrible danger when the night air rolls in. Now it is up to Levi and Kat to fight it and save the missing kids before it swallows the town whole.

The Last Mirror on the Left by Lamar Giles, Dapo Adeola (ISBN-13: 9780358129417 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 10/20/2020 Ages 8-12)

In this new Legendary Alston Boys adventure from Edgar-nominated author Lamar Giles, Otto and Sheed must embark on their most dangerous journey yet, bringing a fugitive to justice in a world that mirrors their own but has its own rules to play by.

Unlike the majority of Logan County’s residents, Missus Nedraw of the Rorrim Mirror Emporium remembers the time freeze from The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, and how Otto and Sheed took her mirrors without permission in order to fix their mess. Usually that’s an unforgivable offense, punishable by a million-year sentence. However, she’s willing to overlook the cousins’

misdeeds if they help her with a problem of her own. One of her worst prisoners has escaped, and only the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County can help bring the fugitive to justice.

This funny and off-the-wall adventure is perfect for readers of Jonathan Auxier and Lemony Snicket.

Anya and the Nightingale by Sofiya Pasternack (ISBN-13: 9780358006022 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 11/10/2020 Ages 8-12)

The adventure continues in this exciting sequel to Anya and the Dragon in which a dangerous monster lurks beneath the city and only Anya can keep him from taking her friends’ magic—and their lives. Perfect for fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

It’s been a year since a violent Viking terrorized the small village of Zmeyreka and Anya and her foolish friend Ivan saved a friendly dragon from being sacrificed for his magic.

But things still aren’t safe in the kingdom of Kievan Rus’.

After embarking on a journey to bring her papa home from war, Anya discovers a powerful forest creature terrorizing travelers. But she soon learns that he’s not the monster the kingdom should fear. There’s an even greater evil that lurks under the city.

Can Anya stop the monster, save her papa, and find her way home? Or will the secrets of Kiev leave Anya and her friends trapped beneath the city forever?

The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars by Shivaun Plozza (ISBN-13: 9780358243892 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 11/10/2020 Ages 8-12)

A boy and his pet fox go on a quest to find a wolf who has eaten all the stars in the sky before the Shadow Witch destroys the stars and removes good magic from the world forever, perfect for fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Nevermoor.

Long ago, the land of Ulv was filled with magic. But that was before a wolf ate all the Stars in the night sky, ridding the world of magic and allowing Shadow Creatures, beasts made of shadow and evil, to flourish. Twelve-year-old Bo knows the stories but thinks the Stars and the wolf who ate them are nothing more than myths—until the day Bo’s guardian, Mads, is attacked by a giant wolf straight from the legends. With his dying breath, Mads tells Bo that Ulv is in danger and the only way to prevent the Shadow Creatures from taking over is to return the Stars to the sky.

And so Bo—accompanied by his best friend, a fox called Nix, a girl named Selene who’s magic is tied to the return of the Stars, and Tam, a bird-woman who has vowed to protect Bo at all costs—sets off on a quest to find the three magical keys that will release the Stars. But Bo isn’t the only one who wants the Stars, and the friends soon find themselves fleeing angry villagers, greedy merchants, and a vengeful wolf. And all the while, an evil witch lurks in the shadows and time is running out.

The Rembrandt Conspiracy by Deron R. Hicks (ISBN-13: 9780358256212 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 12/01/2020 Ages 8-12)

In this standalone companion to The Van Gogh Deception, Art and Camille team up once again to solve a large museum theft, using one of the biggest heists in history to help them solve the case. Perfect for fans of Dan Brown and the Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Book Scavenger series.

Something’s brewing at the National Portrait Gallery Museum in Washington, D.C. twelve-year-old Art is sure of it. But his only proof that a grand heist is about to take place is iced mocha, forty-two steps, and a mysterious woman who appears like clockwork in the museum.

When Art convinces his best friend, Camille, that the heist is real, the two begin a thrilling chase through D.C. to uncover a villainous scheme that could be the biggest heist since the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum theft in 1990. With a billion dollars’ worth of paintings on the line, the clock is ticking for Art and Camille to solve the conspiracy.

Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt (ISBN-13: 9780544084773 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 01/05/2021 Ages 8-12)

In this poignant, perceptive, witty novel, Gary D. Schmidt brings authenticity and emotion to multiple plot strands, weaving in themes of grief, loss, redemption, achievement, and love. Following the death of her closest friend in summer 1968, Meryl Lee Kowalski goes off to St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, where she struggles to navigate the venerable boarding school’s traditions and a social structure heavily weighted toward students from wealthy backgrounds. In a parallel story, Matt Coffin has wound up on the Maine coast near St. Elene’s with a pillowcase full of money lifted from the leader of a criminal gang, fearing the gang’s relentless, destructive pursuit. Both young people gradually dispel their loneliness, finding a way to be hopeful and also finding each other.

From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves by Vivian Kirkfield, Gilbert Ford (ISBN-13: 9781328560919 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 01/19/2021 Ages 8-12)

Celebrating the invention of vehicles, this collective biography tells the inspiring stories of the visionaries who changed the way we move across air, water, and land. Perfect for fans of Mistakes that Worked and Girls Think of Everything.

In a time when people believed flying was impossible, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier proved that the sky wasn’t the limit. When most thought horseback was the only way to race, Bertha and Karl Benz fired up their engines. From the invention of the bicycle and the passenger steam locomotive, to the first liquid-fuel propelled rocket and industrial robot, inventors across the world have redefined travel. Filled with informative sidebars and colorful illustrations, this collective biography tells the story of the experiments, failures, and successes of visionaries who changed the way the world moves.

Ghosted by Michael Fry (ISBN-13: 9780358269618 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 01/19/2021 Ages 8-12)

From the best-selling author of the How to be a Supervillian series, comes this laugh-out-loud, heavily illustrated story of a shy boy, his best-friend-turned-ghost, and their bucket list of adventures and dares. Perfect for fans of the Timmy Failure and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Larry’s got a few problems. In school, he’s one of those kids who easily gets lost in the crowd. And Grimm, Larry’s best friend in the whole world, has ghosted him. Literally. One minute Grimm was saving a cat in a tree during a lightning storm, and the next, he’s pulling pranks on Larry in his new ghostly corporal form.

When the two best friends realize that there’s something keeping Grimm tethered to their world, they decide that finishing their Totally To-Do bucket list is the perfect way to help Grimm with his unfinished business. Pulling hilarious pranks and shenanigans may be easier with a ghostly best friend, but as Larry and Grimm brave the scares of seventh grade, they realize that saying goodbye might just be the scariest part of middle school.

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold (ISBN-13: 9780358272755 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/02/2021 Ages 10-12)

In this magical middle-grade novel, ten-year-old Gabrielle finds out that America isn’t the perfect place she imagined when she moves from Haiti to Brooklyn. With the help of a clever witch, Gabrielle becomes the perfect American — but will she lose herself in the process? Perfect for fans of HURRICANE CHILD and FRONT DESK.

It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met. She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied. So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell.

Gabrielle is a funny and engaging heroine you won’t soon forget in this sweet and lyrical novel that’s perfect for fans of Hurricane Child and Front Desk.

Of a Feather by Dayna Lorentz (ISBN-13: 9780358283539 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/09/2021 Ages 10-12)

In the vein of Barbara O’Connor’s Wish, a moving, poignant story told in alternating perspectives about a down-on-her-luck girl who rescues a baby owl, and how the two set each other free.

Great horned owl Rufus is eight months old and still can’t hunt. When his mother is hit by a car, he discovers just how dangerous the forest can be.

Reenie has given up on adults and learned how to care for herself—a good thing, since she’s sent to live with an aunt she’s never met. Yet this aunt has a wonderful secret: she’s a falconer who agrees to help Reenie catch an injured passage hawk in the wild and rehabilitate it.

When Reenie traps bedraggled Rufus, his eyes lock onto her heart, and they form a powerful friendship. But can Rufus learn to trust in the outside world and fly free? And can Reenie open her heart enough to truly soar?

Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World by Jacqueline Davies, Deborah Hocking (ISBN-13: 9780358354758 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/16/2021 Ages 8-12)

Best-selling author Jacqueline Davies tells the story of two unlikely friends: Sydney and Taylor, a skunk and a hedgehog who strike out to discover the great unknown, despite how afraid they are of it. Charming full-color illustrations and a laugh-out-loud story make this chapter book perfect for fans of the Mercy Watson and Owl Diaries series.

Sydney is a skunk and Taylor is a hedgehog, but no matter how odd the pairing may seem, their friendship comes naturally. They live happily in their cozy burrow . . . until the day Taylor gets his Big Idea to go see the Whole Wide World. From mountains taller than a hundred hedgehogs, valleys wider than a thousand skunks, to the dangers that lie in the human world, Sydney and Taylor wanted to see it all. With a map and a dream, they bravely set off, soon discovering that the world is much bigger than they realized . . .

The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan (ISBN-13: 9780358354758 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/16/2021 Ages 8-12)

An accessible and beautifully written middle grade novel-in-verse by award-winning Irish author Meg Grehan about Stevie, a young girl reckoning with anxiety about the many things she has yet to understand—including her feelings about her friend Chloe. Perfect for fans of Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, Star Crossed, and George.

11-year-old Stevie is an avid reader and she knows a lot of things about a lot of things. But these are the things she’d like to know the most:

1. The ocean and all the things that live there and why it’s so scary

2. The stars and all the constellations

3. How phones work

4. What happened to Princess Anastasia

5. Knots

Knowing things makes Stevie feel safe, powerful, and in control should anything bad happen. And with the help of her mom, she is finding the tools to manage her anxiety.

But there’s one something Stevie doesn’t know, one thing she wants to understand above everything else, and one thing she isn’t quite ready to share with her mom: the fizzy feeling she gets in her chest when she looks at her friend, Chloe. What does it mean and why isn’t she ready to talk about it?

In this poetic exploration of identity and anxiety, Stevie must confront her fears to find inner freedom all while discovering it is our connections with others that make us stronger.

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book: A Greenglass House Story by Kate Milford (ISBN-13: 9781328466907 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/23/2021 Ages 8-12)

Nothing is what it seems and there’s always more than one side to the story as a group of strangers trapped in an inn slowly reveal their secrets in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the best-selling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award–winning author.

The rain hasn’t stopped for a week, and the twelve guests of the Blue Vein Tavern are trapped by flooded roads and the rising Skidwrack River. Among them are a ship’s captain, tattooed twins, a musician, and a young girl traveling on her own. To pass the time, they begin to tell stories—each a different type of folklore—that eventually reveal more about their own secrets than they intended.

As the rain continues to pour down—an uncanny, unnatural amount of rain—the guests begin to realize that the entire city is in danger, and not just from the flood. But they have only their stories, and one another, to save them. Will it be enough?

Young adult

Under Shifting Stars by Alexandra Latos (ISBN-13: 9780358067757 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 09/29/2020 Ages 12-16)

This heartfelt novel for fans of Jandy Nelson and Adam Silvera follows twins Audrey and Clare as they grapple with their brother’s death and their changing relationships—with each other and themselves.

Audrey and Clare may be twins, but they don’t share a school, a room, a star sign, or even a birthday. Ever since their brother Adam’s death, all they’ve shared is confusion over who they are and what comes next.

Audrey, tired of being seen as different from her neurotypical peers, is determined to return to public school. Clare is grappling with her gender fluidity and is wondering what emerging feelings for a nonbinary classmate might mean. Will first crushes, new family dynamics, and questions of identity prove that Audrey and Clare have grown too different to understand each other—or that they’ve needed each other all along?

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne (ISBN-13: 9780358172062 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 12/01/2020 Ages 14-18)

From award-winning British author Holly Bourne comes a clever, deconstructed rom-com that proves that in real life “girl meets boy” doesn’t always mean “happily ever after” . . . or does it? At turns funny, feminist, and achingly real, this read is perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella, Patrick Ness, and Julie Buxbaum.

Audrey is over romance. While dealing with her parents’ contentious divorce, a breakup of her own, and shifting friendship dynamics, she has every reason to feel cynical. But then she meets Harry, her fellow coworker at the local cinema. He’s brash, impulsive, and a major flirt. And even though Audrey tries to resist, she finds herself falling for his charms. But in this funny, insightful, and ultimately empowering novel, love—and life—isn’t what it’s like in the movies.

Curse of the Divine by Kim Smejkal (ISBN-13: 9781328637253 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/09/2021 Ages 14-18)

Return to the world of inklings, tattoo magic, and evil deities as Celia uncovers the secrets of the ink in order to stop Diavala once and for all. This eagerly anticipated sequel to Ink in the Blood is perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Wicked Saints.

Celia Sand faced Diavala and won, using ink magic to destroy the corrupt religion of Profeta that tormented her for a decade. But winning came with a cost. Now Celia is plagued with guilt over her role in the death of her best friend. When she discovers that Diavala is still very much alive and threatening Griffin, the now-infamous plague doctor, Celia is desperate not to lose another person she loves to the deity’s wrath.

The key to destroying Diavala may lie with Halycon Ronnea, the only other person to have faced Diavala and survived. But Halcyon is dangerous and has secrets of his own, ones that involve the ink that Celia has come to hate. Forced to choose between the ink and Diavala, Celia will do whatever it takes to save Griffin—even if it means making a deal with the devil himself.

Some Other Now by Sarah Everett (ISBN-13: 9780358251866 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/23/2021 Ages 14-18)

This Is Us for teens, this luminous and heartbreaking contemporary novel follows a girl caught between two brothers as the three of them navigate family, loss, and love over the course of two summers. For fans of Far From the TreeEmergency Contact, and Nina LaCour.

Before she kissed one of the Cohen boys, seventeen-year-old Jessi Rumfield knew what it was like to have a family—even if, technically, that family didn’t belong to her. She’d spent her childhood in the house next door, challenging Rowan Cohen to tennis matches while his older brother, Luke, studied in the background and Mel watched over the three like the mother Jessi always wished she had.

But then everything changed. It’s been almost a year since Jessi last visited the Cohen house. Rowan is gone. Mel is in remission and Luke hates Jessi for the role she played in breaking his family apart. Now Jessi spends her days at a dead-end summer job avoiding her real mother, who suddenly wants to play a role in Jessi’s life after being absent for so long. But when Luke comes home from college, it’s hard to ignore the past. And when he asks Jessi to pretend to be his girlfriend for the final months of Mel’s life, Jessi finds herself drawn back into the world of the Cohens. Everything’s changed, but Jessi can’t help wanting to be a Cohen, even if it means playing pretend for one final summer.

New Books Alert: Folktales, Chernobyl, stand-up comedy, and more!

Weird times, my friends. Usually I write a little intro here about how I get a lot of book mail and can’t possibly read it all, but after two weeks home from work and uncertain how much more I will work this school year, I am in the strange position of not only being home to grab the book mail as soon as it arrives, but also now to just be home and read most of the day. It’s pretty much as amazing as I thought it would be, but I would much rather we were all healthy and schools were open.

Interested in what you see here? Be sure to order from your local indie store! Two of my favorite stores are The Red Balloon in St. Paul, MN and The Children’s Book Shop in Brookline Village, MA.

As always, reminder that 100% of what I get in book mail goes back out the door to find new homes with teachers, librarians, and young readers. Keep at eye on my Twitter (@CiteSomething) and maybe you’ll see some of these books ready for new homes soon!


All descriptions from the publishers.

Folktales for Fearless Girls: The Stories We Were Never Told by Myriam Sayalero, Dani Torrent (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593115220 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/25/2020 Ages 8-12)

Heroines save the day in this empowering collection of folktales from around the world, perfect for fans of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls.

Curses to be broken. Riddles to be solved. Kings’ favor to be won. These are the standard stories we’ve heard in folktales and fables for as long as we can remember—challenges faced and overcome by princes and knights in shining armor. In Folktales for Fearless Girls, though, we see a different set of heroes charge across the page. In fact, we see heroines.

Wily women and clever girls, valiant queens and brave villagers—these are the people to save the day in this collection of folktales from around the world and across the ages. Long before J.K. Rowling brought us Hermione Granger, well before Katniss Everdeen entered the arena, these fierce protagonists were the role models for strong girls through the ages. Here we read the story of Jimena, who dresses like a man to go fight in a war; of Min, whose cleverness leads her family to riches; and of Nabiha, who outsmarts thieves and wins the respect of the king. With stories from China, Russia, Persia, India, Armenia, the UK, Spain, France, Southern Africa, Egypt, and Germany, this is a collection of tales that showcases the original literary feminists.

With beautiful full-color art throughout to accompany these empowering tales, this an essential book for all girls!

The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman (ISBN-13: 9781984837356 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/10/2020 Ages 9-12)

Like Ruta Sepetys for middle grade, Anne Blankman pens a poignant and timeless story of friendship that twines together moments in underexplored history.

On a spring morning, neighbors Valentina Kaplan and Oksana Savchenko wake up to an angry red sky. A reactor at the nuclear power plant where their fathers work—Chernobyl—has exploded. Before they know it, the two girls, who’ve always been enemies, find themselves on a train bound for Leningrad to stay with Valentina’s estranged grandmother, Rita Grigorievna. In their new lives in Leningrad, they begin to learn what it means to trust another person. Oksana must face the lies her parents told her all her life. Valentina must keep her grandmother’s secret, one that could put all their lives in danger. And both of them discover something they’ve wished for: a best friend. But how far would you go to save your best friend’s life? Would you risk your own?

Told in alternating perspectives among three girls—Valentina and Oksana in 1986 and Rifka in 1941—this story shows that hatred, intolerance, and oppression are no match for the power of true friendship.

Stand Up, Yumi Chung! by Jessica Kim (ISBN-13: 9780525554974 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/17/2020 Ages 9-12)

One lie snowballs into a full-blown double life in this irresistible story about an aspiring stand-up comedian.

On the outside, Yumi Chung suffers from #shygirlproblems, a perm-gone-wrong, and kids calling her “Yu-MEAT” because she smells like her family’s Korean barbecue restaurant. On the inside, Yumi is ready for her Netflix stand-up special. Her notebook is filled with mortifying memories that she’s reworked into comedy gold. All she needs is a stage and courage.

Instead of spending the summer studying her favorite YouTube comedians, Yumi is enrolled in test-prep tutoring to qualify for a private school scholarship, which will help in a time of hardship at the restaurant. One day after class, Yumi stumbles on an opportunity that will change her life: a comedy camp for kids taught by one of her favorite YouTube stars. The only problem is that the instructor and all the students think she’s a girl named Kay Nakamura—and Yumi doesn’t correct them.

As this case of mistaken identity unravels, Yumi must decide to stand up and reveal the truth or risk losing her dreams and disappointing everyone she cares about.

Gotham High by Melissa de la Cruz, Thomas Pitilli (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781401286248 Publisher: DC Comics Publication date: 04/07/2020 Ages 16-18)

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Alex and Eliza and The Witches of East End comes a reimagining of Gotham for a new generation of readers. Before they became Batman, Catwoman, and The Joker, Bruce, Selina, and Jack were high schoolers who would do whatever it took—even destroy the ones they love—to satisfy their own motives.

After being kicked out of his boarding school, 16-year-old Bruce Wayne returns to Gotham City to find that nothing is as he left it. What once was his family home is now an empty husk, lonely but haunted by the memory of his parents’ murder. Selina Kyle, once the innocent girl next door, now rules over Gotham High School with a dangerous flair, aided by the class clown, Jack Napier.

When a kidnapping rattles the school, Bruce seeks answers as the dark and troubled knight—but is he actually the pawn? Nothing is ever as it seems, especially at Gotham High, where the parties and romances are of the highest stakes … and where everyone is a suspect.

With enchanting art by Thomas Pitilli, this new graphic novel is just as intoxicating as it is chilling, in which dearest friends turn into greatest enemies—all within the hallways of Gotham High!

This Is My Brain in Love by I. W. Gregorio (ISBN-13: 9780316423823 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 04/14/2020 Ages 12-18)

Told in dual narrative, This Is My Brain in Love is a stunning YA contemporary romance, exploring mental health, race and, ultimately, self-acceptance, for fans of I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter and Emergency Contact.

Jocelyn Wu has just three wishes for her junior year: To make it through without dying of boredom, to direct a short film with her BFF Priya Venkatram, and to get at least two months into the year without being compared to or confused with Peggy Chang, the only other Chinese girl in her grade.

Will Domenici has two goals: to find a paying summer internship, and to prove he has what it takes to become an editor on his school paper.

Then Jocelyn’s father tells her their family restaurant may be going under, and all wishes are off. Because her dad has the marketing skills of a dumpling, it’s up to Jocelyn and her unlikely new employee, Will, to bring A-Plus Chinese Garden into the 21st century (or, at least, to Facebook).

What starts off as a rocky partnership soon grows into something more. But family prejudices and the uncertain future of A-Plus threaten to keep Will and Jocelyn apart. It will take everything they have and more, to save the family restaurant and their budding romance.

Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder (ISBN-13: 9780525553021 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/14/2020)

Part poignant cancer memoir and part humorous reflection on a motherless life, this debut graphic novel is extraordinarily comforting and engaging.

From before her mother’s first oncology appointment through the stages of her cancer to the funeral, sitting shiva, and afterward, when she must try to make sense of her life as a motherless daughter, Tyler Feder tells her story in this graphic novel that is full of piercing—but also often funny—details. She shares the important post-death firsts, such as celebrating holidays without her mom, the utter despair of cleaning out her mom’s closet, ending old traditions and starting new ones, and the sting of having the “I’ve got to tell Mom about this” instinct and not being able to act on it. This memoir, bracingly candid and sweetly humorous, is for anyone struggling with loss who just wants someone to get it.

Girls Save the World in This One by Ash Parsons (ISBN-13: 9780525515326 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/14/2020)

Shaun of the Dead meets Clueless in this hilarious YA horror comedy set at a local zombie convention—featuring a teenage girl gang that has to save the world from a horde of actual zombies. Perfect for fans of Geekerella, Undead Girl Gang, and Anna and the Apocalypse.

Mega-fan June Blue’s whole life has been leading up to this moment: ZombieCon!The Ultimate in Undead Entertainment has finally come to her hometown. She and her two best friends—gorgeous, brilliant Imani and super-sweet, outrageously silly Siggy—plan on hitting all the panels and photo ops, and meeting the heartthrob lead of their favorite zombie apocalypse show, Human Wasteland. It’s going to be the best time of their lives—and one of their last adventures before they all split up for college.

And when they arrive, everything seems perfect. June’s definitely not going to let anything get in the way of the flawless con experience—even though she’s endlessly anxious about the SATs and college admissions,
and she can’t seem to avoid her ex-best friend Blair, whose VIP badge lets her walk straight to the front of every single line. No matter what, June is determined to make the best of her dream day at ZombieCon!

But something’s not quite right at the con—there are strange people in hazmat suits running around, enthusiastic cosplayers taking their shambling a little too far, and someone actually biting a cast member. Then, at a panel gone wrong, June and her friends discover the truth: the zombie apocalypse is here.

Now June, Imani, and Siggy must do whatever it takes to survive a horde of actual flesh-eating zombies—
and save the world. A hilarious and heartfelt horror comedy, that is an ode to zombies, friendship, and girl power.

The Deck of Omens by Christine Lynn Herman (ISBN-13: 9781368025270 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 04/21/2020 Series: Devouring Gray Series #2 Ages 12-18)

This hotly anticipated sequel to The Devouring Gray is perfect for fans of Maggie Stiefvater’s The Raven Cycle and Stranger Things.

Though the Beast is seemingly subdued for now, a new threat lurks in Four Paths: a corruption seeping from the Gray into the forest. And with the other Founders preoccupied by their tangled alliances and fraying relationships, only May Hawthorne seems to realize the danger. But saving the town she loves means seeking aid from the person her family despises most — her father, Ezra Bishop.

May’s father isn’t the only newcomer in town—Isaac Sullivan’s older brother has also returned, seeking forgiveness for the role he played in Isaac’s troubled past. But Isaac isn’t ready to let go of his family’s history, especially when that history might hold the key that he and Violet Saunders need to destroy the Gray and the monster within it.

Harper Carlisle isn’t ready to forgive, either. Two devastating betrayals have left her isolated from her family and uncertain who to trust. As the corruption becomes impossible to ignore, Harper must learn to control her newfound powers in order to protect Four Paths. But the only people who can help her do that are the ones who have hurt her the most.

With the veil between the Gray and the town growing ever thinner, the Founder descendants must put their grievances with one another aside to stop the corruption and kill the Beast once and for all. But the monster they truly need to slay may never been the Beast…

Ways to Make Sunshine by Renée Watson, Nina Mata (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781547600564 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 04/28/2020 Ages 7-10)

From Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Award winner Renée Watson comes the first book in a young middle grade series about Ryan Hart, a girl who is pure spirit, kindness, and sunshine.

Ryan Hart has a lot on her mind—school, self-image, and especially family. Her dad finally has a new job, but money is tight. That means some changes, like selling their second car and moving into a new (old) house. But Ryan is a girl who knows how to make sunshine out of setbacks. As her brother says when he raps about her, she’s got the talent that matters most: it’s a talent that can’t be seen, she’s nice, not mean!

Ryan is all about trying to see the best in people, to be a good daughter, a good sister, a good friend. But even if her life isn’t everything she would wish for, when her big brother is infuriating, her parents don’t quite understand, and the unexpected happens, she always finds a way forward, with grace and wit. And plenty of sunshine.

Acclaimed author Renée Watson writes her own version of Ramona Quimby, one starring a Black girl and her family, in this start to a charming new series.

Wild & Chance by Allen Zadoff (ISBN-13: 9781368053198 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 04/28/2020 Ages 8-12)

Sit. Speak. Survive the chase.

A girl wakes up trapped on a sinking ship with no memory of who she is and nothing but her instinct to survive. She fights her way to freedom, only to discover two incredible facts: She is a dog, and she can understand human speech. She soon befriends a thirteen-year-old boy named Chance who gives her a name of her own-Wild.

But Wild and Chance find themselves running for their lives, pursued by relentless Animal Control officers. Joined by a mysterious hacker girl named Junebug, the unlikely trio fights for survival while trying to solve the mystery of Wild’s extraordinary strength, superintelligence, and high-tech collar.

Equal parts heart-pounding action and heartfelt journey, Wild & Chance grabs the reader from page one and never lets go.

This Coven Won’t Break by Isabel Sterling (ISBN-13: 9780451480354 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 05/19/2020 Series: These Witches Don’t Burn Series #2 Ages 12-17)

In this gripping, romantic sequel to These Witches Don’t Burn, Hannah must work alongside her new girlfriend to take down the Hunters desperate to steal her magic.

Hannah Walsh just wants to finish high school. It’s her senior year, so she should be focusing on classes, hanging out with her best friend, and flirting with her new girlfriend, Morgan. But it turns out surviving a murderous Witch Hunter doesn’t exactly qualify as a summer vacation, and now the rest of the Hunters seem more intent on destroying her magic than ever.

When Hannah learns the Hunters have gone nationwide, armed with a serum capable of taking out entire covens at once, she’s desperate to help. Now, with witches across the country losing the most important thing they have—their power—Hannah could be their best shot at finally defeating the Hunters. After all, she’s one of the only witches to escape a Hunter with her magic intact.

Or so everyone believes. Because as good as she is at faking it, doing even the smallest bit of magic leaves her in agony. The only person who can bring her comfort, who can make her power flourish, is Morgan. But Morgan’s magic is on the line, too, and if Hannah can’t figure out how to save her—and the rest of the Witches—she’ll lose everything she’s ever known. And as the Hunters get dangerously close to their final target, will all the Witches in Salem be enough to stop an enemy determined to destroy magic for good?

When I Hit the Road by Nancy J. Cavanaugh (ISBN-13: 9781728226354 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 05/05/2020 Ages 8-12)

From the author of the award-winning This Journal Belongs to Ratchet comes a new kind of journal by a girl on a madcap road trip, featuring a karaoke-loving grandma, a cute boy, and a wild summer of memories that will last a lifetime.

Samantha is not exactly excited to spend what was supposed to be an awesome summer vacation with her grandma all the way in Florida. Or to be testing out her mom’s “Dear Me” Journals—writing to her future self just feels weird. But it turns out Gram has some not-so-boring plans up her sleeve…

Gram and her friend Mimi are going to audition for the Seniors Have Got Talent Karaoke Contest!

A road trip in Gram’s new Mustang turns into a series of hilarious mishaps that flip Samantha’s summer on its head. And to make things more awkward, Brandon, Mimi’s totally handsome grandson, is also along for the ride.

It looks like those journals just might be worth keeping after all. Because this summer will be one Samantha will never want to forget.

The Boy in the Red Dress by Kristin Lambert (ISBN-13: 9780593113684 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 05/12/2020 Ages 12+)

A Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue meets Miss Fisher’s Murder Mystery in this rollicking romp of truth, lies, and troubled pasts.

New Year’s Eve, 1929.

Millie is running the show at the Cloak & Dagger, a swinging speakeasy in the French Quarter, while her aunt is out of town. The new year is just around the corner, and all of New Orleans is out to celebrate, but even wealthy partiers’ diamond earrings can’t outshine the real star of the night: the boy in the red dress. Marion is the club’s star performer and his fans are legion—if mostly underground.

When a young socialite wielding a photograph of Marion starts asking questions, Millie wonders if she’s just another fan. But then her body is found crumpled in the courtyard, dead from an apparent fall off the club’s balcony, and all signs point to Marion as the murderer. Millie knows he’s innocent, but local detectives aren’t so easily convinced.

As she chases clues that lead to cemeteries and dead ends, Millie’s attention is divided between the wry and beautiful Olive, a waitress at the Cloak & Dagger, and Bennie, the charming bootlegger who’s offered to help her solve the case. The clock is ticking for the fugitive Marion, but the truth of who the killer is might be closer than Millie thinks.

Poisoned Water: How the Citizens of Flint, Michigan, Fought for Their Lives and Warned the Nation by Candy J Cooper, Marc Aronson (ISBN-13: 9781547602322 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 05/19/2020 Ages 10-12)

In 2014, the residents of Flint, Michigan noticed that their water was a copper hue and smelled and tasted like sulfur. Some began using bottled water, but many of those who didn’t started to experience rashes, hair loss, and a frightening, dehabilitating illness. Still, city officials claimed water tests were normal. It wasn’t until nearly a year later when Flint resident Lee Ann Walters sent a water sample to the Environmental Protection Agency herself that the truth came out: the citizens of Flint where being poisoned by their own water supply.
Based on the authors’ original reporting and featuring government documents, photographs, and, Poisoned Water is a riveting look at an alarming story of a government who turned away from its citizens–and the power of those same citizens who rose up to demand action.

Jo & Laurie by Margaret Stohl, Melissa de la Cruz (ISBN-13: 9781984812018 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/02/2020 Ages 12-17)

Bestselling authors Margaret Stohl and Melissa de la Cruz bring us a romantic retelling of Little Women starring Jo March and her best friend, the boy next door, Theodore “Laurie” Laurence.

1869, Concord, Massachusetts: After the publication of her first novel, Jo March is shocked to discover her book of scribbles has become a bestseller, and her publisher and fans demand a sequel. While pressured into coming up with a story, she goes to New York with her dear friend Laurie for a week of inspiration—museums, operas, and even a once-in-a-lifetime reading by Charles Dickens himself!

But Laurie has romance on his mind, and despite her growing feelings, Jo’s desire to remain independent leads her to turn down his heartfelt marriage proposal and sends the poor boy off to college heartbroken. When Laurie returns to Concord with a sophisticated new girlfriend, will Jo finally communicate her true heart’s desire or lose the love of her life forever?

Where We Go From Here by Lucas Rocha, Larissa Helena (Translator) (ISBN-13: 9781338556247 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 06/02/2020 Ages 14-17)

An absorbing debut novel about three gay friends in Brazil whose lives become intertwined in the face of HIV, perfect for fans of Adam Silvera and Bill Konigsberg.

Ian has just been diagnosed with HIV.

Victor, to his great relief, has tested negative.

Henrique has been living with HIV for the past three years.

When Victor finds himself getting tested for HIV for the first time, he can’t help but question his entire relationship with Henrique, the guy he has — had — been dating. See, Henrique didn’t disclose his positive HIV status to Victor until after they had sex, and even though Henrique insisted on using every possible precaution, Victor is livid.

That’s when Victor meets Ian, a guy who’s also getting tested for HIV. But Ian’s test comes back positive, and his world is about to change forever. Though Victor is loath to think about Henrique, he offers to put the two of them in touch, hoping that perhaps Henrique can help Ian navigate his new life. In the process, the lives of Ian, Victor, and Henrique will become intertwined in a story of friendship, love, and self-acceptance.

Set in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, this utterly engrossing debut by Brazilian author Lucas Rocha calls back to Alex Sanchez’s Rainbow Boys series, bringing attention to how far we’ve come with HIV, while shining a harsh light on just how far we have yet to go.

Accidental by Alex Richards (ISBN-13: 9781547603589 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 07/07/2020 Ages 13-17)

This timely, emotionally-resonant story about a teen girl dealing with the aftermath of a tragic shooting is a must-read from an exciting new YA talent.

Johanna has had more than enough trauma in her life. She lost her mom in a car accident, and her father went AWOL when Johanna was just a baby. At sixteen, life is steady, boring . . . maybe even stifling, since she’s being raised by her grandparents who never talk about their daughter, her mother Mandy.

Then he comes back: Robert Newsome, Johanna’s father, bringing memories and pictures of Mandy. But that’s not all he shares. A tragic car accident didn’t kill Mandy—it was Johanna, who at two years old, accidentally shot her own mother with an unsecured gun.

Now Johanna has to sort through it all—the return of her absentee father, her grandparents’ lies, her part in her mother’s death. But no one, neither her loyal best friends nor her sweet new boyfriend, can help her forgive them. Most of all, can she ever find a way to forgive herself?

In a searing, ultimately uplifting story, debut author Alex Richards tackles a different side of the important issue that has galvanized teens across our country.

Being Toffee by Sarah Crossan (ISBN-13: 9781547603299 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 07/14/2020 Ages 12+)

I am not who I say I am,
and Marla isn’t who she thinks she is.

I am a girl trying to forget.
She is a woman trying to remember.

Allison has run away from home and with nowhere to live finds herself hiding out in the shed of what she thinks is an abandoned house. But the house isn’t empty. An elderly woman named Marla, with dementia, lives there – and she mistakes Allison for an old friend from her past named Toffee.

Allison is used to hiding who she really is, and trying to be what other people want her to be. And so, Toffee is who she becomes. After all, it means she has a place to stay. There are worse places she could be.

But as their bond grows, and Allison discovers how much Marla needs a real friend, she begins to ask herself – where is home? What is a family? And most importantly, who is she, really?

The Last Lie by Patricia Forde (ISBN-13: 9781492693338 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 08/01/2020 Series: List Series #2 Ages 10-14)

Words hold power—and Letta wields them fiercely in this conclusion to the ALA Notable book The List.

The city of Ark is no longer safe. Before the rebellion, everyone could only speak List, a language of just 500 words. But when Letta became the Wordsmith, the keeper of all the words that have ever existed—she learned that being able to express yourself is what makes you human.

And now, the new ruler has wicked plans to eliminate language once and for all: If a baby never hears a single word, they will never speak.

Letta and the other rebels must find a way to defeat the evil for good before they lose the very thing that will set them free.

Prelude for Lost Souls by Helene Dunbar (ISBN-13: 9781492667377 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 08/01/2020 Ages 14-18)

For readers of Nova Ren Suma, Maggie Steifvater, and Maureen Johnson comes a spellbinding tale about choosing your own path, the families we create for ourselves, and facing the ghosts of your past.

In the town of St. Hilaire, most make their living by talking to the dead. In the summer, the town gates open to tourists seeking answers while all activity is controlled by The Guild, a sinister ruling body that sees everything.

Dec Hampton has lived there his entire life, but ever since his parents died, he’s been done with it. He knows he has to leave before anyone has a chance to stop him.

His best friend Russ won’t be surprised when Dec leaves—but he will be heartbroken. Russ is a good medium, maybe even a great one. He’s made sacrifices for his gift and will do whatever he can to gain entry to The Guild, even embracing dark forces and contacting the most elusive ghost in town.

But when the train of Annie Krylova, the piano prodigy whose music has been Dec’s main source of solace, breaks down outside of town, it sets off an unexpected chain of events. And in St. Hilaire, there are no such things as coincidences.

It Came from the Sky by Chelsea Sedoti (ISBN-13: 9781492673026 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 08/01/2020 Ages 14-18)

From the author of The Hundred Lies of Lizzie Lovett and As You Wish comes the unforgettable story of the one small town’s biggest hoax and the two brothers who started it all.

This is the absolutely true account of how Lansburg, Pennsylvania was invaded by aliens and the weeks of chaos that followed. There were sightings of UFOs, close encounters, and even abductions. There were believers, Truth Seekers, and, above all, people who looked to the sky and hoped for more.

Only…there were no aliens.

Gideon Hofstadt knows what really happened. When one of his science experiments went wrong, he and his older brother blamed the resulting explosion on extraterrestrial activity. And their lie was not only believed by their town—it was embraced. As the brothers go to increasingly greater lengths to keep up the ruse and avoid getting caught, the hoax flourishes. But Gideon’s obsession with their tale threatened his whole world. Can he find a way to banish the aliens before Lansburg, and his life, are changed forever?

Told in a report format and comprised of interviews, blog posts, text conversations, found documents, and so much more, It Came from the Sky is a hysterical and resonant novel about what it means to be human in the face of the unknown.