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20 2020 Middle Grade Books To Have On Your Radar

Just like with my YA list from earlier this week, this list could have easily been much longer. Why oh why do we ever have to do anything other than read? I could easily fill every single waking hour with reading.

Also just like my YA list, this list is heavy on the contemporary fiction. It’s what I like best. I’m not saying there are no good fantasy or sci-fi or whatever books—this is just my personal list of anticipated reads.

Hop in the comments or catch me on Twitter @CiteSomething and tell me what you are excited to read in 2020!

All descriptions from the publishers or Goodreads summaries.

Leaving Lymon by Lesa Cline-Ransome (ISBN-13: 9780823444427 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 01/07/2020)

Behind every bad boy is a story worth hearing and at least one chance for redemption. It’s 1946 and Lymon, uprooted from his life in the Deep South and moved up North, needs that chance.

Lymon’s father is, for the time being, at Parchman Farm—the Mississippi State Penitentiary—and his mother, whom he doesn’t remember all that much, has moved North. Fortunately, Lymon is being raised by his loving grandparents. Together, Lymon and his grandpops share a love of music, spending late summer nights playing the guitar.

But Lymon’s world as he knows it is about to dissolve. He will be sent on a journey to two Northern cities far from the country life he loves—and the version of himself he knows. In this companion novel to the Coretta Scott King Honor wining Finding Langston, readers will see a new side of the bully Lymon in this story of an angry boy whose raw talent, resilience, and devotion to music help point him in a new direction.

From the Desk of Zoe Washington by Janae Marks (ISBN-13: 9780062875853 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/14/2020)

From debut author Janae Marks comes a captivating mystery full of heart, as one courageous girl questions assumptions, searches for the truth, and does what she believes is right—even in the face of great opposition. A perfect book for fans of Front Desk and All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook!

Zoe Washington isn’t sure what to write. What does a girl say to the father she’s never met, hadn’t heard from until his letter arrived on her twelfth birthday, and who’s been in prison for a terrible crime?

A crime he says he never committed.

Could Marcus really be innocent? Zoe is determined to uncover the truth. Even if it means hiding his letters and her investigation from the rest of her family. Everyone else thinks Zoe’s worrying about doing a good job at her bakery internship and proving to her parents that she’s worthy of auditioning for Food Network’s Kids Bake Challenge.

But with bakery confections on one part of her mind, and Marcus’s conviction weighing heavily on the other, this is one recipe Zoe doesn’t know how to balance. The only thing she knows to be true: Everyone lies.

King and the Dragonflies by Kacen Callender (ISBN-13: 9781338129335 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 02/04/2020)

In a small but turbulent Louisiana town, one boy’s grief takes him beyond the bayous of his backyard, to learn that there is no right way to be yourself.

Twelve-year-old Kingston James is sure his brother Khalid has turned into a dragonfly. When Khalid unexpectedly passed away, he shed what was his first skin for another to live down by the bayou in their small Louisiana town. Khalid still visits in dreams, and King must keep these secrets to himself as he watches grief transform his family.

It would be easier if King could talk with his best friend, Sandy Sanders. But just days before he died, Khalid told King to end their friendship, after overhearing a secret about Sandy-that he thinks he might be gay. “You don’t want anyone to think you’re gay too, do you?”

But when Sandy goes missing, sparking a town-wide search, and King finds his former best friend hiding in a tent in his backyard, he agrees to help Sandy escape from his abusive father, and the two begin an adventure as they build their own private paradise down by the bayou and among the dragonflies. As King’s friendship with Sandy is reignited, he’s forced to confront questions about himself and the reality of his brother’s death.

The Thing About Jellyfish meets The Stars Beneath Our Feet in this story about loss, grief, and finding the courage to discover one’s identity, from the author of Hurricane Child.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (ISBN-13: 9781250171115 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 02/04/2020)

Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon is a magical realist graphic novel about a young girl who befriends her town’s witch and discovers the strange magic within herself.

Snap’s town had a witch.

At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a crocks-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online—after doing a little ritual to put their spirits to rest. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too.

They make a deal: Jacks will teach Snap how to take care of the baby opossums that Snap rescued, and Snap will help Jacks with her work. But as Snap starts to get to know Jacks, she realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic—and a connection with Snap’s family’s past.

Parked by Danielle Svetcov (ISBN-13: 9780399539039 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/04/2020)

Rebecca Stead meets The Westing Game in this scrappy, poignant, uplifting debut about family, friendship, and accepting help enough to help yourself.

Twelve-year-old Jeanne Ann has doubts when her mom spends their savings on an old orange van and bundles them off to San Francisco to chase Mom’s dream of working as a chef. There, they camp on the street while her mother looks for a job she never gets. Before long, Jeanne Ann realizes that this van is the closest thing she has to a home.


Across the road, twelve-year-old Cal watches the homeless community parked just beyond his big house. Cal’s mom is busy with the upscale restaurant she owns, but they’ve always been close—until Cal does something his mom just doesn’t understand.


Then Cal and Jeanne Ann meet. Cal is too tall and too weird and too rich and wears all his feelings on the outside of his skin, and he just wants to help. Jeanne Ann is smart, she is funny, she is stubborn—hers is a royal-looking chin, in Cal’s opinion—and she does not want his help. But a quirky, meaningful friendship develops. And as it does, the pair is buoyed by a remarkable cast of nuanced, oddball characters who let them down and lift them up.


Debut novelist Danielle Svetcov nails heartbreak and hope, and pulls it off with a kind of kid-speed levity and warmth that make the funny parts of this story cathartic and the difficult parts all the more affecting.

Gloom Town by Ronald L. Smith (ISBN-13: 9781328841612 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/11/2020)

A delightfully creepy novel from a Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award winner imbued with magic and seafaring mythology. Lemony Snicket and Jessica Townsend meet Greenglass House, with a hint of Edward Gorey thrown in.

When twelve-year-old Rory applies for a job at a spooky old mansion in his gloomy seaside town, he finds the owner, Lord Foxglove, odd and unpleasant. But he and his mom need the money, so he takes the job anyway. Rory soon finds out that his new boss is not just strange, he’s not even human—and he’s trying to steal the townspeople’s shadows. Together, Rory and his friend Isabella set out to uncover exactly what Foxglove and his otherworldly accomplices are planning and devise a strategy to defeat them. But can two kids defeat a group of ancient evil beings who are determined to take over the world?

Another delightfully creepy tale from Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe New Talent Award–winning author, Ronald L. Smith.

Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk! by Greg Howard (ISBN-13: 9780525517528 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/11/2020)

In this heartfelt and hilarious new novel from Greg Howard, an enterprising boy starts his own junior talent agency and signs a thirteen-year-old aspiring drag queen as his first client.

Twelve-year-old Mikey Pruitt—president, founder, and CEO of Anything, Inc.—has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Inspired by his grandfather Pap Pruitt, who successfully ran all sorts of businesses from a car wash to a roadside peanut stand, Mikey is still looking for his million-dollar idea. Unfortunately, most of his ideas so far have failed. A baby tornado ran off with his general store, and the kids in his neighborhood never did come back for their second croquet lesson. But Mikey is determined to keep at it.

It isn’t until kid drag queen Coco Caliente, Mistress of Madness and Mayhem (aka eighth grader Julian Vasquez) walks into his office (aka his family’s storage/laundry room) looking for an agent that Mikey thinks he’s finally found his million-dollar idea, and the Anything Talent and Pizzazz Agency is born!

Soon, Mikey has a whole roster of kid clients looking to hit it big or at least win the middle school talent show’s hundred-dollar prize. As newly out Mikey prepares Julian for the gig of a lifetime, he realizes there’s no rulebook for being gay—and if Julian can be openly gay at school, maybe Mikey can, too, and tell his crush, dreamy Colton Sanford, how he feels.

Full of laughs, sass, and hijinks, this hilarious, heartfelt story shows that with a little effort and a lot of love, anything is possible.

A High Five for Glenn Burke by Phil Bildner (ISBN-13: 9780374312732 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 02/25/2020)

A heartfelt and relatable novel from Phil Bildner, weaving the real history of Los Angeles Dodger and Oakland Athletic Glenn Burke—the first professional baseball player to come out as gay—into the story of a middle-school kid learning to be himself.

When sixth grader Silas Wade does a school presentation on former Major League Baseball player Glenn Burke, it’s more than just a report on the inventor of the high five. Burke was a black gay baseball player in the 1970s—and for Silas, the presentation is his own first baby step toward coming out as gay.

Soon he tells his best friend Zoey, but the longer he keeps his secret from his baseball teammates, the more he suspects they know something’s up. Kids get pulled from the team, fingers point at Silas, and he stages one big cover-up with terrible consequences. Was it a mistake to share his truth?

A High Five for Glenn Burke is Phil Bildner’s most personal novel yet, and drives home the message that there’s no one way to come out—and there’s a place in the field for everyone.

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (ISBN-13: 9781338255812 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 03/03/2020)

Deaf author and librarian Ann Clare LeZotte weaves a riveting Own Voices story inspired by the true history of a thriving deaf community on Martha’s Vineyard in the early 19th century.

Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her beloved island of Martha’s Vineyard. Her great-great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander. Now, over a hundred years later, many people there — including Mary — are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language. Mary has never felt isolated. She is proud of her lineage.

But recent events have delivered winds of change. Mary’s brother died, leaving her family shattered. Tensions over land disputes are mounting between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. And a cunning young scientist has arrived, hoping to discover the origin of the island’s prevalent deafness. His maniacal drive to find answers soon renders Mary a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment. Her struggle to save herself is at the core of this penetrating and poignant novel that probes our perceptions of ability and disability. It will make you forever question your own ideas about what is normal.

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes (ISBN-13: 9780316493802 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/03/2020)

From award-winning and bestselling author, Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age story about two brothers, one who presents as white, the other as black, and the complex ways in which they are forced to navigate the world, all while training for a fencing competition.

Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, he feels as if he is constantly swimming in whiteness. Most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbed the “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter skinned brother, Trey. Quiet, obedient.

When an incident with “King” Alan leads to Donte’s arrest and suspension, he knows the only way to get even is to beat the king of the school at his own game: fencing. With the help of a former Olympic fencer, Donte embarks on a journey to carve out a spot on Middlefield Prep’s fencing team and maybe learn something about himself along the way.

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

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)

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.

The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung (INFO TK Publication date: Spring 2020)

Mike Jung’s The Boys in the Back Row, is a story of comic nerds, band geeks, and one grand misadventure in the name of friendship. It will release in Spring 2020.

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert (ISBN-13: 9780316456388 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/24/2020)

Award-winning YA author Brandy Colbert’s debut middle-grade novel about the only two black girls in town who discover a collection of hidden journals revealing shocking secrets of the past.

Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.

Efrén Divided by Ernesto Cisneros (ISBN-13: 9780062881687 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/31/2020)

Efrén Divided is a not-to-be-missed debut middle grade novel for readers who love Front Desk or Merci Suárez Changes Gears—or for anyone working toward a more loving world—about family, friendship, and tearing down the walls being built between us.

Efrén Nava’s Amá is his Superwoman—or Soperwoman, named after the delicious Mexican sopes his mother often prepares. Both Amá and Apá work hard all day to provide for the family, making sure Efrén and his younger siblings Max and Mía feel safe and loved.

But Efrén worries about his parents; although he’s American-born, his parents are undocumented. His worst nightmare comes true one day when Amá doesn’t return from work and is deported across the border to Tijuana, México.

Now more than ever, Efrén must channel his inner Soperboy to help take care of and try to reunite his family.

Ghost Squad by Claribel A. Ortega (ISBN-13: 9781338280128 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 04/07/2020)

Coco meets Stranger Things with a hint of Ghostbusters in this action-packed supernatural fantasy.

For Lucely Luna, ghosts are more than just the family business.

Shortly before Halloween, Lucely and her best friend, Syd, cast a spell that accidentally awakens malicious spirits, wreaking havoc throughout St. Augustine. Together, they must join forces with Syd’s witch grandmother, Babette, and her tubby tabby, Chunk, to fight the haunting head-on and reverse the curse to save the town and Lucely’s firefly spirits before it’s too late.

With the family dynamics of Coco and action-packed adventure of Ghostbusters, Claribel A. Ortega delivers both a thrillingly spooky and delightfully sweet debut novel.

A Field Guide to Getting Lost by Joy McCullough (ISBN-13: 9781534438491 Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers Publication date: 04/14/2020)

A girl with a passion for science and a boy who dreams of writing fantasy novels must figure out how to get along now that their parents are dating in this lively, endearing novel.

Sutton is having robot problems. Her mini-bot is supposed to be able to get through a maze in under a minute, but she must have gotten something wrong in the coding. Which is frustrating for a science-minded girl like Sutton—almost as frustrating as the fact that her mother probably won’t be home in time for Sutton’s tenth birthday.

Luis spends his days writing thrilling stories about brave kids, but there’s only so much inspiration you can find when you’re stuck inside all day. He’s allergic to bees, afraid of dogs, and has an overprotective mom to boot. So Luis can only dream of daring adventures in the wild.

Sutton and Luis couldn’t be more different from each other. Except now that their parents are dating, these two have to find some common ground. Will they be able to navigate their way down a path they never planned on exploring?

Rick by Alex Gino (ISBN-13: 9781338048100 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 04/21/2020)

From the award-winning author of George, the story of a boy named Rick who needs to explore his own identity apart from his jerk of a best friend.

Rick’s never questioned much. He’s gone along with his best friend Jeff even when Jeff’s acted like a bully and a jerk. He’s let his father joke with him about which hot girls he might want to date even though that kind of talk always makes him uncomfortable. And he hasn’t given his own identity much thought, because everyone else around him seemed to have figured it out.

But now Rick’s gotten to middle school, and new doors are opening. One of them leads to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities congregate, including Melissa, the girl who sits in front of Rick in class and seems to have her life together. Rick wants his own life to be that . . . understood. Even if it means breaking some old friendships and making some new ones.

As they did in their groundbreaking novel GEORGE, in RICK, award-winning author Alex Gino explores what it means to search for your own place in the world . . . and all the steps you and the people around you need to take in order to get where you need to be.

A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi, Laura Shovan (ISBN-13: 9780358116684 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 05/12/2020)

A timely, accessible, and beautifully written story exploring themes of food, friendship, family and what it means to belong, featuring sixth-graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl taking a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom.

Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners . . . but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends? 

Dress Coded by Carrie Firestone (ISBN-13: 9781984816436 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 07/07/2020)

In this debut middle-grade girl-power friendship story, an eighth grader starts a podcast to protest the unfair dress code enforcement at her middle school and sparks a rebellion.

Molly Frost is FED UP…

Because Olivia was yelled at for wearing a tank top when she had to keep her sweatshirt wrapped around her waist.

Because Liza got dress coded and Molly didn’t, even though they were wearing the exact same outfit.

Because when Jessica was pulled over by the principal and missed a math quiz, her teacher gave her an F.

Because it’s impossible to find shorts that are longer than her fingertips.

Because girls’ bodies are not a distraction.

Because middle school is hard enough.

And so Molly starts a podcast where girls can tell their stories, and soon her small rebellion swells into a revolution. Because now the girls are standing up for what’s right, and they’re not backing down.

20 2020 YA Books To Have On Your Radar

Like many of you (I’m guessing), I keep multiple reading-related lists. I keep track of what I read each year. I keep track of what ARCs I’ve gotten and hope to read. I keep track of what books I either want to get when they come out or hope to track down as ARCs but haven’t yet. There’s the list of 2019 LGBTQIA+ books. Look, I like lists. Even just listing my lists was fun for me. So anyway, I scanned through all my various relevant lists and pulled together this new list (yay!) of 20 YA books I can’t wait to read. In some cases, it’s because I liked the author’s previous work. In some cases, it’s a debut that’s caught my attention. In some cases, it’s just that I like reading my friends’ work. My list could have easily been much longer.

Isn’t it exciting to be able to look forward to SO MANY GOOD BOOKS in 2020?!

Hop in the comments or catch me on Twitter @CiteSomething and tell me what you are excited to read in 2020!

All descriptions from the publishers or Goodreads summaries. Some books are still lacking full information, but I’ve seen enough to know that I am looking forward to reading them!

We Used to Be Friends by Amy Spalding (ISBN-13: 9781419738661 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 01/07/2020)

Two best friends grow up—and grow apart—in this innovative contemporary YA novel

Told in dual timelines—half of the chapters moving forward in time and half moving backward—We Used to Be Friends explores the most traumatic breakup of all: that of childhood besties. At the start of their senior year in high school, James (a girl with a boy’s name) and Kat are inseparable, but by graduation, they’re no longer friends. James prepares to head off to college as she reflects on the dissolution of her friendship with Kat while, in alternating chapters, Kat thinks about being newly in love with her first girlfriend and having a future that feels wide open. Over the course of senior year, Kat wants nothing more than James to continue to be her steady rock, as James worries that everything she believes about love and her future is a lie when her high-school sweetheart parents announce they’re getting a divorce. Funny, honest, and full of heart, We Used to Be Friends tells of the pains of growing up and growing apart.

Say Her Name by Zetta Elliott, Loveis Wise (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781368045247 Publisher: Disney Press Publication date: 01/14/2020)

Inspired by the #SayHerName campaign launched by the African American Policy Forum, these poems pay tribute to victims of police brutality as well as the activists insisting that Black Lives Matter. Elliott engages poets from the past two centuries to create a chorus of voices celebrating the creativity, resilience, and courage of Black women and girls.

This collection features forty-nine powerful poems, four of which are tribute poems inspired by the works of Lucille Clifton, Audre Lorde, Nikki Giovanni, and Phillis Wheatley.

This provocative collection will move every reader to reflect, respond-and act.

Layoverland by Gabby Noone (ISBN-13: 9781984836120 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/21/2020)

Two teens, one stuck atoning for her sins and one destined for heaven, fall in love in purgatory in this darkly hilarious and heartfelt rom-com, perfect for fans of The Good Place.

Beatrice Fox deserves to go straight to hell.

At least, that’s what she believes. Her last day on Earth, she ruined the life of the person she loves most—her little sister, Emmy. So when Bea awakens from a fatal car accident to find herself on an airplane headed who knows where, she’s confused, to say the least.

Once on the ground, Bea receives some truly harrowing news: she’s in purgatory. If she ever wants to catch a flight to heaven, she’ll have to help five thousand souls figure out what’s keeping them from moving on.

But one of Bea’s first assignments is Caleb, the boy who caused her accident, and the last person Bea would ever want to send to the pearly gates. And as much as Bea would love to see Caleb suffer for dooming her to a seemingly endless future of eating bad airport food and listening to other people’s problems, she can’t help but notice that he’s kind of cute, and sort of sweet, and that maybe, despite her best efforts, she’s totally falling for him.

From debut author Gabby Noone comes a darkly hilarious and heartfelt twist on the afterlife about finding second chances, first loves, and new friendships in the most unlikely places.

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli, Aisha Saeed (ISBN-13: 9780062937049 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/04/2020)

A book about the power of love and resistance from New York Times bestselling authors Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed.

YES

Jamie Goldberg is cool with volunteering for his local state senate candidate—as long as he’s behind the scenes. When it comes to speaking to strangers (or, let’s face it, speaking at all to almost anyone) Jamie’s a choke artist. There’s no way he’d ever knock on doors to ask people for their votes…until he meets Maya.

NO

Maya Rehman’s having the worst Ramadan ever. Her best friend is too busy to hang out, her summer trip is canceled, and now her parents are separating. Why her mother thinks the solution to her problems is political canvassing—with some awkward dude she hardly knows—is beyond her.

MAYBE SO

Going door to door isn’t exactly glamorous, but maybeit’s not the worst thing in the world. After all, the polls are getting closer—and so are Maya and Jamie. Mastering local activism is one thing. Navigating the cross-cultural crush of the century is another thing entirely.

When We Were Magic by Sarah Gailey (ISBN-13: 9781534432871 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 03/03/2020)

A sly, witchy dark comedy about four teens whose magic goes wildly awry from Magic for Liars author Sarah Gailey, who Chuck Wendig calls an “author to watch.”

Keeping your magic a secret is hard. Being in love with your best friend is harder.

Alexis has always been able to rely on two things: her best friends, and the magic powers they all share. Their secret is what brought them together, and their love for each other is unshakeable—even when that love is complicated. Complicated by problems like jealousy, or insecurity, or lust. Or love.

That unshakeable, complicated love is one of the only things that doesn’t change on prom night.

When accidental magic goes sideways and a boy winds up dead, Alexis and her friends come together to try to right a terrible wrong. Their first attempt fails—and their second attempt fails even harder. Left with the remains of their failed spells and more consequences than anyone could have predicted, each of them must find a way to live with their part of the story.

The Degenerates by J. Albert Mann (ISBN-13: 9781534419353 Publisher: Atheneum Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/17/2020)

In the tradition of Girl, Interrupted, this fiery historical novel follows four young women in the early 20th century whose lives intersect when they are locked up by a world that took the poor, the disabled, the marginalized—and institutionalized them for life.

The Massachusetts School for the Feeble-Minded is not a happy place. The young women who are already there certainly don’t think so. Not Maxine, who is doing everything she can to protect her younger sister Rose in an institution where vicious attendants and bullying older girls treat them as the morons, imbeciles, and idiots the doctors have deemed them to be. Not Alice, either, who was left there when her brother couldn’t bring himself to support a sister with a club foot. And not London, who has just been dragged there from the best foster situation she’s ever had, thanks to one unexpected, life altering moment. Each girl is determined to change her fate, no matter what it takes.

We Didn’t Ask for This by Adi Alsaid (ISBN-13: 9781335146762 Publisher: Inkyard Press Publication date: 04/07/2020)

Central International School’s annual lock-in is legendary. Bonds are made. Contests are fought. Stories are forged that will be passed down from student to student for years to come.

This year’s lock-in begins normally enough. Then a group of students led by Marisa Cuevas stage an ecoprotest and chain themselves to the doors, vowing to keep everyone trapped inside until their list of demands is met.

Some students rally to their cause…but others are aggrieved to watch their own plans fall apart.

Amira has trained all year to compete in the school decathlon on her own terms. Peejay intended to honor his brother by throwing the greatest party CIS has ever seen. Kenji was looking forward to making a splash at his improv showcase. Omar wanted to spend a little time with the boy he’s been crushing on. Celeste, adrift in a new country, was hoping to connect with someone—anyone. And Marisa, once so certain of her goals, must now decide how far she’ll go to attain them.

Every year, lock-in night changes lives. This year, it might just change the world.

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.

Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan (ISBN-13: 9780525516286 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/21/2020)

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny YA contemporary romance about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender (ISBN-13: 9780062820259 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/12/2020)

From Stonewall and Lambda Award–winning author Kacen Callender comes a revelatory YA novel about a transgender teen grappling with identity and self-discovery while falling in love for the first time.

Felix Love has never been in love—and, yes, he’s painfully aware of the irony. He desperately wants to know what it’s like and why it seems so easy for everyone but him to find someone. What’s worse is that, even though he is proud of his identity, Felix also secretly fears that he’s one marginalization too many—Black, queer, and transgender—to ever get his own happily-ever-after.

When an anonymous student begins sending him transphobic messages—after publicly posting Felix’s deadname alongside images of him before he transitioned—Felix comes up with a plan for revenge. What he didn’t count on: his catfish scenario landing him in a quasi–love triangle….

But as he navigates his complicated feelings, Felix begins a journey of questioning and self-discovery that helps redefine his most important relationship: how he feels about himself.

Felix Ever After is an honest and layered story about identity, falling in love, and recognizing the love you deserve.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar (ISBN-13: 9781624149689 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 05/12/2020)

Nishat doesn’t want to lose her family, but she also doesn’t want to hide who she is, and it only gets harder once a childhood friend walks back into her life. Flávia is beautiful and charismatic, and Nishat falls for her instantly. But when a school competition invites students to create their own businesses, both Flávia and Nishat decide to showcase their talent as henna artists. In a fight to prove who is the best, their lives become more tangled—but Nishat can’t quite get rid of her crush, especially since Flávia seems to like her back.

As the competition heats up, Nishat has a decision to make: stay in the closet for her family, or put aside her differences with Flávia and give their relationship a chance.

The Mall: A Novel by Megan McCafferty (ISBN-13: 9781250209955 Publisher: St. Martin”s Publishing Group Publication date: 06/09/2020)

New York Times bestselling author Megan McCafferty returns to her roots with this YA coming of age story set in a New Jersey mall.

The year is 1991. Scrunchies, mixtapes and 90210 are, like, totally fresh. Cassie Worthy is psyched to spend the summer after graduation working at the Parkway Center Mall. In six weeks, she and her boyfriend head off to college in NYC to fulfill The Plan: higher education and happily ever after.

But you know what they say about the best laid plans…

Set entirely in a classic “monument to consumerism,” the novel follows Cassie as she finds friendship, love, and ultimately herself, in the most unexpected of places. Megan McCafferty, beloved New York Times bestselling author of the Jessica Darling series, takes readers on an epic trip back in time to The Mall.

This Is All Your Fault by Aminah Mae Safi (ISBN-13: 9781250242341 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication date: 06/09/2020)

Rinn Olivera is finally going to tell her longtime crush AJ that she’s in love with him.

Daniella Korres writes poetry for her own account, but nobody knows it’s her.

Imogen Azar is just trying to make it through the day.

When Rinn, Daniella, and Imogen clock into work at Wild Nights Bookstore on the first day of summer, they’re expecting the hours to drift by the way they always do. Instead, they have to deal with the news that the bookstore is closing. Before the day is out, there’ll be shaved heads, a diva author, and a very large shipment of Air Jordans to contend with.

And it will take all three of them working together if they have any chance to save Wild Nights Bookstore.

Today Tonight Tomorrow by Rachel Lynn Solomon (ISBN-13: 9781534440241 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 06/16/2020)

The Hating Game meets Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist by way of Morgan Matson in this unforgettable romantic comedy about two rival overachievers whose relationship completely transforms over the course of twenty-four hours.

Today, she hates him.

It’s the last day of senior year. Rowan Roth and Neil McNair have been bitter rivals for all of high school, clashing on test scores, student council elections, and even gym class pull-up contests. While Rowan, who secretly wants to write romance novels, is anxious about the future, she’d love to beat her infuriating nemesis one last time.

Tonight, she puts up with him.

When Neil is named valedictorian, Rowan has only one chance at victory: Howl, a senior class game that takes them all over Seattle, a farewell tour of the city she loves. But after learning a group of seniors is out to get them, she and Neil reluctantly decide to team up until they’re the last players left—and then they’ll destroy each other.

As Rowan spends more time with Neil, she realizes he’s much more than the awkward linguistics nerd she’s sparred with for the past four years. And, perhaps, this boy she claims to despise might actually be the boy of her dreams.

Tomorrow…maybe she’s already fallen for him.

More Than Just a Pretty Face by Syed M. Masood (ISBN-13: 9780316492355 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 08/04/2020)

For fans of Becky Albertalli and Jenny Han, a sweetly funny YA debut about falling in love, family expectations, and being a Renaissance Man.
Danyal Jilani doesn’t lack confidence. He may not be the smartest guy in the room, but he’s funny, gorgeous, and going to make a great chef one day. His father doesn’t approve of his career choice, but that hardly matters. What does matter is the opinion of Danyal’s longtime crush, the perfect-in-all-ways Kaval, and her family, who consider him a less than ideal arranged marriage prospect.

When Danyal gets selected for Renaissance Man, a school-wide academic championship, it’s the perfect opportunity to show everyone he’s smarter than they think. He recruits the brilliant, totally-uninterested-in-him Bisma to help with the competition, but the more time Danyal spends with her…the more he learns from her…the more he cooks for her…the more he realizes that happiness may be staring him right in his pretty face.

In this young adult debut full of depth and heart, author Syed M. Masood will have readers laughing, sighing, tearing up, and shouting “YES!” at the top of their lungs.

All Our Worst Ideas by Vicky Skinner (ISBN-13: 9781250195425 Publisher: Feiwel & Friends Publication date: 08/11/2020)

When Amy, on her way to becoming valedictorian of her graduating class and getting accepted to her dream school, gets dumped by her long-term boyfriend, she takes a job at a record store to ease the pain. She needs a distraction, badly.

Oliver, Amy’s record store co-worker, isn’t so sure about Amy—his complete opposite—but what he is sure of is his decision not to go to college. He just can’t figure out how to tell his mother.

As they work late-night shifts at the record store, Amy and Oliver become friends and then confidantes and then something more, but when Amy has a hard time letting go of what she thought was her perfect future with her ex, she risks losing the future she didn’t even know she wanted with Oliver.

The Whitsun Daughters by Carrie Mesrobian (ISBN-13: 9780735231955 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/25/2020)

From a critically acclaimed author, a twisty and gorgeously written YA ghost story about young women separated by centuries but connected by a desire to control their futures.

“How quickly everything in the world disintegrates. Everything but the loneliness of young women.”

So begins The Whitsun Daughters, a story of three contemporary teenage girls—sisters and cousins—in a small Midwestern town, narrated by the ghost of a young woman who, over a century earlier, lived and loved on the same small patch of farmland the girls now call home.

The book follows both the present-day story of the three Whitsun girls and the story of Jane Murphy a century earlier as they fight to assert their own desires in worlds determined to ignore and minimize them. The Whitsun girls struggle with an unplanned pregnancy. Jane is determined to defy her arranged marriage and have both the baby she carries and the young man she loves.

The Whitsun Daughters leaves readers with a profound sense of the unbreakable thread connecting generations of young women who sought and continue to seek control their destinies.

Surrender Your Sons by Adam Sass (ISBN-13: TK Publisher: Flux Expected publication date: 09/15/2020)

A gay teen’s summer vacation becomes a nightmare when his religious zealot family has him kidnapped and taken to a conversion camp on a forgotten island. There, he teams up with other kidnapped LGBTQ+ teens to uncover the camp’s dark secrets.

The State of Us by Shaun David Hutchinson (ISBN-13: TK Publisher: HarperTeen Expected publication date: 2020)

David Linker at HarperCollins has bought We Are the Ants author Shaun David Hutchinson‘s The State of Us, the story of Dean and Dre—the 16-year-old sons of the Republican and Democratic candidates for President of the United States—who fall in love on the sidelines of their parents’ presidential campaigns. The book is planned for summer 2020; Katie Shea Boutillier at Donald Maass Literary Agency brokered the deal for world rights.

I Hope You’re Listening by Tom Ryan (ISBN-13: TK Publisher: Albert Whitman Expected publication date: 2020)

Ten years after witnessing her best friend’s kidnapping, a teen copes by anonymously launching a podcast to help solve missing persons cases, but when a new abduction is revealed to have links to the original case, she has to decide how much she is willing to reveal to discover the truth.

Escaping from Reality Shows Us How to Change It, a guest post by Ryan La Sala

REVERIE takes place in our world. Connecticut, to be specific. It’s a version of Connecticut you’d recognize, even if you’ve only seen postcards. We have old mills and slow rivers and vibrant autumns. The usual stuff. There is, however, one major difference. 

In REVERIE’s imagining, Connecticut is slowly being warped by a strange magic that mines the secret, subconscious worlds people build within themselves, and manifests those worlds in our reality. The characters refer to these phenomena as reveries, because that’s what they are: fantasies that superimpose themselves over our reality. Fantasies that entrap, and refuse to dislodge themselves from reality until they are appeased. 

I developed the concept of the reverie around the idea of inverting escapism. Dreams are common territory in fiction, but usually as an act of solitary, inward exploration (or prophecy, if we’re being uncanny). I love those stories but my goal with REVERIE wasn’t to dig into fantasies that one could simply wake up from. I wanted fantasies that were aggressive, and moody, and dead-set on surviving once they’d been manifested. So I created a magic that gives material form to belief, and I created a magic system that gives power to those typically rendered powerless by reality. 

Why?

By explanation, let me start with Kane, the unlikable hero of REVERIE. Kane uses escapism as a form of self-preservation. He is lonely and disenchanted with a reality that has been unkind to him, as reality often is to young queer. Kane withdraws into books, movies, and anything that provides a realm other than our own. And he’s content with this, until the sudden inheritance of power—and the ensuing responsibility—reveals to him how ill-equipped he is to navigate relationships, leadership, community, and other hallmarks of a hero. 

With Kane, I wanted to show how a person can become so insulated by daydreams that they forget how to manage the world around them. When we withdraw, the world only notes our absence for so long. It then continues on without us, and often the things that forced us to withdraw get the luxury of continuing unchecked, as we drift further into ourselves. 

Do I fault Kane for using escapism as self-preservation? Absolutely not. Fantasy’s function as refuge is very important to me. His reaction to reality is not his fault. But his inaction eventually is his fault, especially as he learns about his own ability to affect the reality around him. Eventually, running away means abandoning people he could otherwise help. Eventually, running away is not an option. 

I like this journey for Kane. His path out of himself contrasts well with his adventures into the interior worlds of other people. I think his point of view enables him to be an effective narrator to drive home an important lesson. 

Escapism isn’t always bad. Reality is a harsh place, and no one should be faulted for wanting a break. But there are people among the escaping ranks with power. People like Kane, who has the advantage of privilege, and stability, and—sure—magical reality bending magic. Maybe you don’t have Kane’s magic, but you do have his imagination. Lots of writers and bookish people share that. They spend hours in other worlds, analyzing system of magic, fantastical machinations, and mind-boggling world building. They — really we— are practically trained on both imagining a more fantastic world, but also manifesting it through bravery, heroics, honesty, and determination. 

So escapism has its educative uses, doesn’t it? From the negative of the world, it creates a technicolor solution to the reality that necessitates it. My argument, if I have one, is that escapism can be a harbinger for change. As a reaction to reality, escapism can be the exercise of deconstructing our reality’s faults, experimenting with their improvement, and ultimately devising actionable ways to create that change in our material world. The last part, the action part, is what Kane needs to learn. As a person with power, it’s up to him to find a way to bring his reality and his dreams together; to bring his dreams home, because ultimately it is reality where he must live.

A reverie is a fantasy imposed upon reality, borne from a person’s interior world. Often that interior world is much more hospitable than the world that inspires it. Reverie’s make me think of safe spaces, of shelters, of refuge. They make me think of gay bars full of pride, and libraries full of wonder. Places where the fantasy of what the world could be like kiss against the partition of what it is.

So I don’t discourage dreaming. Ever. I support escapism with my whole heart. Whether for indulgence, or comfort, or thrill, I see escapism as not just necessary, but deeply practical. Because it’s escapes that help us feel safe, and coax us towards dreaming.

And, ultimately, it’s escapes that show us the work that needs doing once we’re ready to wake up.

Meet Ryan La Sala

Photo credit: Lauren Takakjian

RYAN LA SALA grew up in Connecticut, but only physically. Mentally, he spent most of his childhood in the worlds of Sailor Moon and Xena: Warrior Princess, which perhaps explains all the twirling. He studied Anthropology and Neuroscience at Northeastern University before becoming a project manager specialized in digital tools. He technically lives in New York City, but has actually transcended material reality and only takes up a human shell for special occasions, like brunch, and to watch anime (which is banned on the astral plane). Reverie is Ryan’s debut novel. You can visit him at ryanlasala.com or follow him on Twitter @Ryality.

About REVERIE

Inception meets The Magicians in this wildly imaginative story about what happens when the secret worlds people hide within themselves come to light.

All Kane Montgomery knows for certain is that the police found him half-dead in the river. He can’t remember anything since an accident robbed him of his memories a few weeks ago. And the world feels different—reality itself seems different.

So when three of his classmates claim to be his friends and the only people who can tell him what’s truly going on, he doesn’t know what to believe or who he can trust. But as he and the others are dragged into unimaginable worlds that materialize out of nowhere—the gym warps into a subterranean temple, a historical home nearby blooms into a Victorian romance rife with scandal and sorcery—Kane realizes that nothing in his life is an accident, and only he can stop their world from unraveling.

ISBN-13: 9781492682660
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 12/03/2019

Penguin Random House Spring 2020 Showcase

If you’ve read my frequent posts detailing new books, you know the deal: I get lots of book mail. LOTS.

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 Penguin Random House. All annotations are from the publisher.

Check my Twitter (@CiteSomething) for a giveaway where you can enter to win some of these books! 

The Blossom and the Firefly by Sherri L. Smith (ISBN-13: 9781524737900 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/18/2020 Ages 12 up)

From the award-winning author of Flygirl comes this powerful WWII romance between two Japanese teens caught in the cogs of an unwinnable war, perfect for fans of Salt to the Sea, Lovely War, and Code Name Verity.

Japan 1945. Taro is a talented violinist and a kamikaze pilot in the days before his first and only mission. He believes he is ready to die for his country . . . until he meets Hana. Hana hasn’t been the same since the day she was buried alive in a collapsed trench during a bomb raid. She wonders if it would have been better to have died that day . . . until she meets Taro.

A song will bring them together. The war will tear them apart. Is it possible to live an entire lifetime in eight short days?

Sherri L. Smith has been called “an author with astonishing range” and “a stellar storyteller” by E. Lockhart, the New York Times-bestselling author of We Were Liars, and “a truly talented writer” by Jacqueline Woodson, the National Book Award-winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming. Here, with achingly beautiful prose, Smith weaves a tale of love in the face of death, of hope in the face of tragedy, set against a backdrop of the waning days of the Pacific War.

Break the Fall by Jennifer Iacopelli (ISBN-13: 9780593114179 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/18/2020 Ages 12 up)

“This book makes you understand exactly what it is like to compete as a woman at the highest level in sport, and it is exhilarating and satisfying indeed.” –Holly Sorensen, Television Creator/Showrunner, Make it or Break It, Step Up: High Water

Audrey Lee is going to the Olympics.

A year ago, she could barely do a push up as she recovered from a spine surgery, one that could have paralyzed her. And now? She’s made the United States’ gymnastics team with her best friend, Emma, just like they both dreamed about since they were kids. She’s on top of the world.

The pressure for perfection is higher than ever when horrifying news rips the team apart. Audrey is desperate to advocate for her teammate who has been hurt by the one person they trusted most–but not all the gymnasts are as supportive.

With the team on the verge of collapse, the one bright spot in training is Leo, her new coach’s ridiculously cute son. And while Audrey probably (okay, definitely) shouldn’t date him until after the games, would it really be the end of the world?

Balancing the tenuous relationship between her teammates with unparalleled expectations, Audrey doesn’t need any more distractions. No matter what it takes, she’s not going to let anyone bring them down. But with painful revelations, incredible odds, and the very real possibility of falling at every turn, will Audrey’s determination be enough?

The Vanishing Deep by Astrid Scholte (ISBN-13: 9780525513957 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/03/2020 Ages 12 up)

Bestselling author Astrid Scholte, returns with a thrilling adventure in which the dead can be revived…for a price.

Seventeen-year-old Tempe was born into a world of water. When the Great Waves destroyed her planet five hundred years ago, its people had to learn to survive living on the water, but the ruins of the cities below still called. Tempe dives daily, scavenging the ruins of a bygone era, searching for anything of value to trade for Notes. It isn’t food or clothing that she wants to buy, but her dead sister’s life. For a price, the research facility on the island of Palindromena will revive the dearly departed for twenty-four hours before returning them to death. It isn’t a heartfelt reunion that Tempe is after; she wants answers. Elysea died keeping a terrible secret, one that has ignited an unquenchable fury in Tempe: Her beloved sister was responsible for the death of their parents. Tempe wants to know why.

But once revived, Elysea has other plans. She doesn’t want to spend her last day in a cold room accounting for a crime she insists she didn’t commit. Elysea wants her freedom and one final glimpse at the life that was stolen from her. She persuades Tempe to break her out of the facility, and they embark on a dangerous journey to discover the truth about their parents’ death and mend their broken bond. But they’re pursued every step of the way by two Palindromena employees desperate to find them before Elysea’s time is up–and before the secret behind the revival process and the true cost of restored life is revealed.

The Small Crimes of Tiffany Templeton by Richard Fifield (ISBN-13: 9781984835895 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/10/2020 Ages 14 up)

The Serpent King meets Girl in Pieces in this moving and darkly funny story about a teenage girl coming of age and learning how to grieve in small-town Montana.

Tiffany Templeton is tough. She dresses exclusively in black, buys leather jackets that are several sizes too big, and never backs down from a fight. She’s known in her tiny Montana town as Tough Tiff, and after her shoplifting arrest and a stint in a reform school, the nickname is here to stay.

But when she comes back home, Tiffany may not be the same old Tough Tiff that everybody remembers. Her life is different now: her mother keeps her on an even shorter leash than before, she meets with a probation officer once a month, and she’s still grieving her father’s recent death.

As Tiffany navigates her new life and learns who she wants to be, she must also contend with an overbearing best friend, the geriatric cast of a high-maintenance drama production, her first boyfriend, and a town full of eccentric neighbors–not to mention a dark secret she’s been keeping about why the ex-football coach left town.

A Phoenix First Must Burn: Sixteen Stories of Black Girl Magic, Resistance, and Hope by Patrice Caldwell (ISBN-13: 9781984835659 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/10/2020 Ages 12 up)

Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.

Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.

We Were Promised Spotlights by Lindsay Sproul (ISBN-13: 9781524738532 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/24/2020 Ages 14 up)

The Miseducation of Cameron Post meets Everything Leads to You in this queer young adult novel.

Taylor Garland’s good looks have earned her the admiration of everyone in her small town. She’s homecoming queen, the life of every party, and she’s on every boy’s most-wanted list.

People think Taylor is living the dream, and assume she’ll stay in town and have kids with the homecoming king—maybe even be a dental hygienist if she’s super ambitious. But Taylor is actually desperate to leave home, and she hates the smell of dentists’ offices. Also? She’s completely in love with her best friend, Susan.

Senior year is almost over, and everything seems perfect. Now Taylor just has to figure out how to throw it all away.

Lindsay Sproul’s debut is full of compelling introspection and painfully honest commentary on what it’s like to be harnessed to a destiny you never wanted.

Hello Now by Jenny Valentine (ISBN-13: 9780399546952 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/31/2020 Ages 12 up)

From Carnegie Medal finalist Jenny Valentine comes a bold new story about love and second chances, perfect for fans of David Levithan’s Every Day.

Jude doesn’t believe in love, or magic. Life is little more than ordinary. That is, until Jude’s mother loses her job and moves them to a little town by the sea to live with Henry Lake–an eccentric old man with rooms to rent. Henry is odd, the town is dull, and worst of all, Jude feels out of place and alone.

So when Novo turns up in the house across the street, dressed all in black and looking unbearably handsome, Jude’s summer takes an immediate turn for the better. But Novo isn’t all that he seems to be–or maybe he’s more than Jude can possibly understand. Novo is pure magic–someone who can bend and stretch the bounds of time. Someone who wakes up in different places and at different points in history with utter regularity. He knows that each Now is fleeting, that each moment is only worth the energy it expends on itself, and that each experience he has will be lost to him before long.

But Jude and Novo form a bond that shifts reality for both of them. Jude begins to question what forever really means–only to find out that Novo knows that forever isn’t real. And when things go horribly wrong, Jude and Novo are faced with an impossible question that may change both of their lives irreparably–what is worth sacrificing for love?

A stunningly written, compelling exploration of what it means to love and live in the moment that quite literally defies both logic and time.

Look by Alexandra Romanoff (ISBN-13: 9780525554264 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/31/2020 Ages 14 up)

“The Prom Queen of Instagram” meets We Are Okay in this totally enthralling, emotionally deep, contemporary YA.

Things Lulu Shapiro’s 10,000 Flash followers don’t know about her:
• That the video of her with another girl was never supposed to go public.
• That Owen definitely wasn’t supposed to break up with her because of it.
• That behind the carefully crafted selfies and scenes Lulu projects onto people’s screens, her life feels like a terrible, uncertain mess.

Then Lulu meets Cass. Cass isn’t interested in looking at Lulu’s life, only in living in it. And The Hotel—a gorgeous space with an intriguing, Old Hollywood history and a trust-fund kid to restore it—seems like the perfect, secret place for them to get to know each other. But just because Lulu has stepped out of the spotlight doesn’t mean it’ll stop following her every move.

Look is for fans of Emergency Contact, Everything, Everything, and We Are Okay. It’s a story about what you present vs. who you really are, about real intimacy and manufactured intimacy and the blurring of that line. It’s a deceptively glamorous, feminist, emotionally complex, utterly compelling, queer coming-of-age novel about falling in love and taking ownership of your own self—your whole self—in the age of social media.

Verona Comics by Jennifer Dugan (ISBN-13: 9780525516286 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/21/2020 Ages 12 up)

From the author of Hot Dog Girl comes a fresh and funny YA contemporary romance about two teens who fall in love in an indie comic book shop.

Jubilee has it all together. She’s an elite cellist, and when she’s not working in her stepmom’s indie comic shop, she’s prepping for the biggest audition of her life.

Ridley is barely holding it together. His parents own the biggest comic-store chain in the country, and Ridley can’t stop disappointing them—that is, when they’re even paying attention.

They meet one fateful night at a comic convention prom, and the two can’t help falling for each other. Too bad their parents are at each other’s throats every chance they get, making a relationship between them nearly impossible . . . unless they manage to keep it a secret.

Then again, the feud between their families may be the least of their problems. As Ridley’s anxiety spirals, Jubilee tries to help but finds her focus torn between her fast-approaching audition and their intensifying relationship. What if love can’t conquer all? What if each of them needs more than the other can give?

Free to Be Me: An LGBTQ+ Journal of Love, Pride & Finding Your Inner Rainbow by Dom&Ink (ISBN-13: 9780593094679 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/28/2020 Ages 12 up)

Scribble your feelings and feel your true self in a technicolor guide to being the happiest you, discovering LGBTQ+ history, and making your own queer mark on the world.

Complete with hilarious and thoughtful color illustrations, readers are encouraged to explore their own story with writing prompts and empowering activities coupled with important stories of LGBTQ+ history from antiquity to the present. No self-respecting young adult will want to put this book down . . . and if they don’t have self-respect yet, this book will challenge them to dig deep and find it. This is the perfect gift for the out-and-proud set, anyone peeking their head out of the closet, and friends and allies alike.

New books alert: An alternative history fairytale, a romance, middle school friendship, and more!

I am very lucky to get so! many! books!

All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to teen readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, to my own 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. The following are the books that have arrived here in the past few weeks. I will be reviewing many of them in the upcoming months on TLT. See something you’ve already read and need to make sure I don’t skip? Or something you’re super excited to read when it comes out? Let me know with a comment here or on Twitter, where I’m @CiteSomething.

All descriptions from the publishers.

Belle Revolte by Linsey Miller (ISBN-13: 9781492679226 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 02/01/2020 Ages 14 up)

From the author of the Mask of Shadows duology comes a standalone fantasy where two young women must trade lives, work together to stay alive, and end a war caused by magic and greed before it kills thousands.

Emilie de Marais is more at home holding scalpels than embroidery needles and is desperate to escape her noble roots to serve her country as a physician. But society dictates a noble lady cannot perform such gruesome work.

Annette Boucher, overlooked and overworked by her family, wants more from life than her humble beginnings and is desperate to be trained in magic. So when a strange noble girl offers Annette the chance of a lifetime, she accepts.

Emilie and Annette swap lives—Annette attends finishing school as a noble lady to be trained in the ways of divination, while Emilie enrolls to be a physician’s assistant, using her natural magical talent to save lives.

But when their nation instigates a terrible war, Emilie and Annette come together to help the rebellion unearth the truth before it’s too late.

The Queen Bee and Me by Gillian McDunn (ISBN-13: 9781681197517 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 03/03/2020 Ages 8-12)

From the highly acclaimed author of Caterpillar Summer comes a heartfelt story about the sweetness and stings of middle-school friendship.

Meg has always found comfort in her best friend Beatrix’s shadow. Self-assured Beatrix is the one who makes decisions, and the girls have been a pair since kindergarten. But middle school has brought some changes in Beatrix, especially when Meg tries to step outside her role as sidekick.

A special science elective is Meg’s first step away, but when she’s paired with quirky new girl Hazel, Beatrix steps in to stake her claim on Meg. Meg is taken aback at how mean Beatrix can be—and how difficult it is to stand up to her friend. But as Meg gets to know Hazel while working on their backyard beehive project, she starts to wonder: Is being Beatrix’s friend worth turning down the possibility of finding her own voice?

This pitch-perfect exploration of middle-school friendship dynamics brims with heart and hope, and will resonate with readers of all ages.

Wicked As You Wish by Rin Chupeco (ISBN-13: 9781492672661 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 03/03/2020 Ages 14 up)

An unforgettable alternative history fairytale series from the author of The Bone Witch trilogy about found family, modern day magic, and finding the place you belong.

Many years ago, the magical Kingdom of Avalon was left desolate and encased in ice when the evil Snow Queen waged war on the powerful country. Its former citizens are now refugees in a world mostly devoid of magic. Which is why the crown prince and his protectors are stuck in…Arizona.

Prince Alexei, the sole survivor of the Avalon royal family, is in hiding in a town so boring, magic doesn’t even work there. Few know his secret identity, but his friend Tala is one of them. Tala doesn’t mind—she has secrets of her own. Namely, that she’s a spellbreaker, someone who negates magic.

Then hope for their abandoned homeland reignites when a famous creature of legend, and Avalon’s most powerful weapon, the Firebird, appears for the first time in decades. Alex and Tala unite with a ragtag group of new friends to journey back to Avalon for a showdown that will change the world as they know it.

Time of Our Lives by Emily Wibberley, Austin Siegemund-Broka (ISBN-13: 9781984835833 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 04/21/2020 Ages 14 up)

A reflective, romantic coming-of-age novel that explores life after high school—perfect for fans of Fangirl and Emergency Contact

A boy desperate to hold on, a girl ready to let go.

Fitz Holton waits in fear for the day his single mother’s early-onset Alzheimer’s starts stealing her memory. He’s vowed to stay close to home to care for her in the years to come—never mind the ridiculous college tour she’s forcing him on to visit schools where he knows he’ll never go. Juniper Ramirez is counting down the days until she can leave home, a home crowded with five younger siblings and zero privacy. Against the wishes of her tight-knit family, Juniper plans her own college tour of the East Coast with one goal: get out.

When Fitz and Juniper cross paths on their first college tour in Boston, they’re at odds from the moment they meet— while Juniper’s dying to start a new life apart from her family, Fitz faces the sacrifices he must make for his. Their relationship sparks a deep connection—in each other’s eyes, they glimpse alternate possibilities regarding the first big decision of their adult lives.

Time of Our Lives is a story of home and away, of the wonder and weight of memory, of outgrowing fears and growing into the future.

We Are Not Free by Traci Chee (ISBN-13: 9780358330004 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 06/09/2020 Ages 12 up)

“All around me, my friends are talking, joking, laughing. Outside is the camp, the barbed wire, the guard towers, the city, the country that hates us.

We are not free.

But we are not alone.”

From New York Times best-selling and acclaimed author Traci Chee comes We Are Not Free, the collective account of a tight-knit group of young Nisei, second-generation Japanese American citizens, whose lives are irrevocably changed by the mass U.S. incarcerations of World War II.

Fourteen teens who have grown up together in Japantown, San Francisco.

Fourteen teens who form a community and a family, as interconnected as they are conflicted.

Fourteen teens whose lives are turned upside down when over 100,000 people of Japanese ancestry are removed from their homes and forced into desolate incarceration camps.

In a world that seems determined to hate them, these young Nisei must rally together as racism and injustice threaten to pull them apart.

Forest of Souls by Lori M. Lee (ISBN-13: 9781624149245 Publisher: Page Street Publishing Publication date: 06/23/2020 Ages 14 up)

Danger lurks within the roots of Forest of Souls, an epic, unrelenting tale of destiny and sisterhood, perfect for fans of Naomi Novik and Susan Dennard.

Sirscha Ashwyn comes from nothing, but she’s intent on becoming something. After years of training to become the queen’s next royal spy, her plans are derailed when shamans attack and kill her best friend Saengo.

And then Sirscha, somehow, restores Saengo to life.

Unveiled as the first lightwender in living memory, Sirscha is summoned to the domain of the Spider King. For centuries, he has used his influence over the Dead Wood—an ancient forest possessed by souls—to enforce peace between the kingdoms. Now, with the trees growing wild and untamed, only a lightwender can restrain them. As war looms, Sirscha must master her newly awakened abilities before the trees shatter the brittle peace, or worse, claim Saengo, the friend she would die for.

Crash Course: Recent poetry books for younger readers

This post wraps up my crash course series in books for younger readers. Hop back to Tuesday/Thursday posts from this month to see my previous posts in this series.

Summaries of these books are from WorldCat/the publisher. All titles are from the past couple of years.

Out of Wonder: Poems Celebrating Poets by Kwame Alexander, Ekua Holmes (Illustrator), Chris Colderley, Marjory Wentworth (2017)


A Newbery Medalist and a Caldecott Honoree’s New York Times best-selling ode to poets who have sparked a sense of wonder.

Out of gratitude for the poet’s art form, Newbery Award–winning author and poet Kwame Alexander, along with Chris Colderley and Marjory Wentworth, present original poems that pay homage to twenty famed poets who have made the authors’ hearts sing and their minds wonder. Stunning mixed-media images by Ekua Holmes, winner of a Caldecott Honor and a John Steptoe New Talent Illustrator Award, complete the celebration and invite the reader to listen, wonder, and perhaps even pick up a pen.

Hypnotize a Tiger: Poems About Just About Everything by Calef Brown (2015)

This is the first longer-format, middle-grade collection from #1 New York Times–bestselling author-illustrator Calef Brown. Moving away from the picture book format offers Calef the opportunity to tackle a variety of themes and poetry styles as well as reach a slightly older audience. Hypnotize a Tiger is chock-full of Calef’s zany black-and-white artwork and features his wonderfully inventive characters and worlds—from the “completely nonviolent and silent” Lou Gnome to Percival, the impetuous (and none-too-sensible) lad who believes he is invincible, to Hugh Jarm (who has a huge arm, natch!). It’s a whimsical world: creative, fun, and inspiring!

Underneath My Bed: List Poems by Brian P. Cleary (2016)

When is a list also a poem? When it’s a list poem! List poems can be funny or serious, rhymed or unrhymed. Award-winning author Brian P. Cleary explains how these types of poems work—and shows some of the many ways they can be written.

Underneath My Bed is packed with goofy poems on subjects ranging from summer camp to dinosaurs to messy bedrooms. And when you’ve finished reading, you can try writing your very own list poem!

National Geographic Book of Nature Poetry: More than 200 Poems With Photographs That Float, Zoom, and Bloom! by J. Patrick Lewis (2015)

When words in verse are paired with the awesomeness of nature, something magical happens! Beloved former U.S. Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis curates an exuberant poetic celebration of the natural world in this stellar collection of nature poems. From trickling streams to deafening thunderstorms to soaring mountains, discover majestic photography perfectly paired with contemporary (such as Billy Collins), classics (such as Robert Frost), and never-before-published work.

When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, Julie Morstad (Illustrator) (2016)

Flowers blooming in sheets of snow make way for happy frogs dancing in the rain. Summer swims move over for autumn sweaters until the snow comes back again. In Julie Fogliano’s skilled hand and illustrated by Julie Morstad’s charming pictures, the seasons come to life in this gorgeous and comprehensive book of poetry.

Wake Up! by Helen Frost, Rick Lieder (Illustrator) (2017)

The world is wide awake — are you? Stunning photos and poetic text usher readers into the early moments of life all around them.

Wake up! Come out and explore all the new creatures being born — just-hatched birds in the trees, tadpoles in the pond, a baby fawn in the woods. In their latest collaboration, poet Helen Frost and photographer Rick Lieder, the creators of Step Gently Out, Sweep Up the Sun, and Among a Thousand Fireflies, invite readers to wake up, open their eyes, and see the awe-inspiring array of new life just outside their door.

One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes (2017)

Inspired by the writers of the Harlem Renaissance, bestselling author Nikki Grimes uses “The Golden Shovel” poetic method to create wholly original poems based on the works of master poets like Langston Hughes, Georgia Douglas Johnson, Jean Toomer, and others who enriched history during this era.

Each poem is paired with one-of-a-kind art from today’s most exciting African American illustrators—including Pat Cummings, Brian Pinkney, Sean Qualls, James Ransome, Javaka Steptoe, and many more—to create an emotional and thought-provoking book with timely themes for today’s readers.

A foreword, an introduction to the history of the Harlem Renaissance, author’s note, poet biographies, and index makes this not only a book to cherish, but a wonderful resource and reference as well.

Can I Touch Your Hair?: Poems of Race, Mistakes, and Friendship by Irene Latham, Charles Waters, Sean Qualls (Illustrator), Selina Alko (Illustrator) (2018)

How can Irene and Charles work together on their fifth grade poetry project? They don’t know each other… and they’re not sure they want to. Irene Latham, who is white, and Charles Waters, who is black, use this fictional setup to delve into different experiences of race in a relatable way, exploring such topics as hair, hobbies, and family dinners.

Keep a Pocket in Your Poem: Classic Poems and Playful Parodies by J. Patrick Lewis, Johanna Wright (Illustrator) (2017)

Thirteen classic poems by poets such as Robert Frost, Langston Hughes, Emily Dickinson, and David McCord are paired with parodies written by J. Patrick Lewis that honor and play off of the original poems in a range of ways. For example, “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is paired with “Stopping by Fridge on a Hungry Evening” to hilarious effect, whereas the combination of Emily Dickinson’s “‘Hope’ is the thing with feathers” with Lewis’s “‘Grief’ is the thing with tissues” is profound, and both David McCord’s “This Is My Rock” and Lewis’s “This Is My Tree” hum with a sense of wonder. This playful introduction to classics will inspire imagination and wonder even as it tickles funny bones.

Wet Cement: A Mix of Concrete Poems by Bob Raczka (2016)

Who says words need to be concrete? This collection shapes poems in surprising and delightful ways.

Concrete poetry is a perennially popular poetic form because they are fun to look at. But by using the arrangement of the words on the page to convey the meaning of the poem, concrete or shape poems are also easy to write! From the author of the incredibly inventive Lemonade: And Other Poems Squeezed from a Single Word comes another clever collection that shows kids how to look at words and poetry in a whole new way.

Echo Echo: Reverso Poems About Greek Myths by Marilyn Singer, Josee Masse (Illustrator) (2016)

What happens when you hold up a mirror to poems about Greek myths? You get a brand-new perspective on the classics! And that is just what happens in Echo Echo, the newest collection of reverso poems from Marilyn Singer. Read one way, each poem tells the story of a familiar myth; but when read in reverse, the poems reveal a new point of view! Readers will delight in uncovering the dual points of view in well-known legends, including the stories of Pandora’s box, King Midas and his golden touch, Perseus and Medusa, Pygmalion, Icarus and Daedalus, Demeter and Persephone, and Echo and Narcissus.

These cunning verses combine with beautiful illustrations to create a collection of fourteen reverso poems to treasure.

My Daddy Rules the World: Poems about Dads by Hope Anita Smith (2017)

Who is your hero? Who’s your best friend?

Who says he loves you again and again?

Daddy!

Told through the voice of a child, Anita Hope Smith’s My Daddy Rules the World collection of poems celebrates everyday displays of fatherly love, from guitar lessons and wrestling matches to bedtime stories, haircuts in the kitchen, and cuddling in bed. These heartwarming poems, together with bold folk-art-inspired images, capture the strength and beauty of the relationship between father and child.

Crash Course: Series books for elementary students

Post four in my crash course series of posts about books for younger readers. Hope back to previous Tuesdays/Thursdays this month to see the others.

Our series section is a popular place for students to be. They’re going to find favorites like Dork Diaries, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Big Nate (none of which need any boosting help from me here—I’m guessing you’re all familiar with these titles) . There are older series that are still popular, such as Horrible Harry, Animal Ark, 39 Clues, Geronimo Stilton/Thea Stilton, A-Z Mysteries, and Hank Zipzer.

I’m going to run down a dozen series here that see a lot of interest and may be newer and/or less well known.

As with all of these posts, a huge shout-out to my coworker Heather for curating and maintaining such high-interest titles with lots of diverse characters. I’m lucky to have landed in a library where diversity is valued and promoted.

Onto the series!

Museum Mysteries series by Steve Brezenoff

Book one: The Case of the Haunted History Museum

Wilson, Amal, Clementine, and Raining Sam solve mysteries in various museums. Fast-paced plots, diverse characters, and appealing art.

Squishy Taylor by by Ailsa Wild, Ben Wood (Illustrator)

Book one: Squishy Taylor and the Bonus Sisters

Funny mysteries starring the charismatic Sita, aka Squishy, and her blended family.

Classroom 13 Series by Honest Lee, Matthew J. Gilbert, Joelle Dreidemy (Illustrator)

Book one: The Unlucky Lottery Winners of Classroom 13

I love this wacky little series. Throughout the books, each student in the class wins over a billion dollars, gets to use a genie to grant wishes, becomes famous, gains superpowers and more, only to find each seemingly amazing thing has big negative and unlucky consequences.

Girls Who Code Series by Stacia Deutsch

Book one: The Friendship Code

Middle school girls learn about coding and friendship in this STEM-focused series. Smart, diverse characters and eye-catching art. This one covers a wide age range for appeal.

Kicks Series by Alex Morgan

Book one: Saving the Team

Another series featuring middle school-aged main characters. New girl Devin quickly gets settled in her new town thanks to the friends she makes on the soccer team. Focus on teamwork and sportsmanship.

Amulet Series #1 by Kazu Kibuishi

Book one: The Stonekeeper

These are THE series to read at my school. Graphic novels about siblings (and a mechanical rabbit) who traverse nightmarish fantasy worlds in various quests.

Conspiracy 365 by Gabrielle Lord

Book one: January

ANOTHER series featuring slightly older characters. In the wake of his father’s death, 15-year-old Callum (yep!) is drawn into a tense world full of plots, crimes, and villains while he tries to avoid his own death. Age-appropriate thriller series for those who like lots of action.

Clubhouse Mysteries Series by Sharon M. Draper, Jesse Joshua Watson (Illustrator)

Book one: The Buried Bones Mystery

Reissued/repackaged series. Mysteries, diversity, and a clubhouse—what’s not to like?!

The Bad Guys Series by Aaron Blabey

Book one: Bad Guys

WILDLY popular at my school. Mr. Wolf, Mr. Piranha, Mr. Snake, and Mr. Shark aren’t really bad guys—they just look like they are. Truly funny with a format that will keep readers turning pages.

Magic Kitten Series by Sue Bentley

Book one: A Summer Spell

The series is actually more than just Magic Kitten. There’s also Magic Puppy, Magic Ponies, Magic Bunny, and so on. This is exactly what it sounds like—cute animals and magic.

Star Wars: Jedi Academy Series by Jeffrey Brown and Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Book one: Jedi Academy

Star Wars except cuter mixes with real-life kiddo problems and comics for a winning series.

Ghost Detectors series by Dotti Enderle, Howard McWilliam

Book one: It Creeps!

Science-minded Malcolm obtains a tool that allows him to detect ghosts and hilarity ensues. Tamely “creepy” for fans of potentially scary-seeming books.

Crash Course: Series books for beginning readers

Earlier this month I wrote about picture books and graphic novels for elementary students. Today I’m tackling popular series books for beginning readers. You may call the readers or this group of books something different—maybe books for emergent readers or maybe early readers. Whatever the terminology, these books with great stories and lots of illustrations are perfect for kids who are growing in their reading fluency and ready to sit down and read a book on their own.

As with my other posts in this series, these are books that are popular at the elementary school where I work. Have suggestions for other titles to look into? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter!

Summaries here of book one in each series are from WorldCat.

Unicorn and Yeti series by Heather Ayris Burnell, Hazel Quintanilla

Book one: Sparkly New Friends

“Unicorn and Yeti run into each other (literally) while looking for sparkly things, and despite some differences, (for instance Unicorn is magic, Yeti is not, Yeti likes snowball fights, Unicorn can not throw snowballs)–the two become friends over a shared love of hot chocolate with rainbow sprinkles.”

This new series is VERY popular at my school. Are we in the golden age of Unicorns? I think so. Practically every day I’m complimenting some kiddo on their unicorn-themed clothing or accessories.

Tales of Sasha series by Alexa Pearl, Paco Sordo

Book one: The Big Secret

“In the Tales of Sasha series debut, Sasha discovers that she really isn’t like the other horses in her valley when wings sprout from her back and she soars through the air!”

Dragon Masters series by Tracey West, Graham Howells

Book one: Rise of the Earth Dragon

“Drake never thought dragons were real. But he soon learns that dragons are real – and that he is a Dragon Master! The magic Dragon Stone has chosen Drake and three others – Ana, Rori, and Bo – to train dragons. Will Drake be able to connect with his dragon? Does he have what it takes to become a true Dragon Master?”

This is one of our most popular series. Often when readers have moved on from this section at our school, I will see them check out a harder book aimed at older readers but also grab one of these for their second choice.


Zapato Power series by Jacqueline Jules, Miguel Benitez

Book one: Freddie Ramos Takes Off

“Freddie finds a mysterious package outside his apartment containing sneakers that allow him to run faster than a train, and inspire him to perform heroic deeds.”

Yasmin series by Saadia Faruqi, Hatem Aly

Book one: Meet Yasmin!

“In this compilation of four separately published books, Pakistani American second grader Yasmin learns to cope with the small problems of school and home, while gaining confidence in her own skills and creative abilities.”

I was thrilled when we got a bunch more of this in recently. Curious and bold Yasmin brings great energy to her every adventure. The illustrations are GREAT—I want to dress like Yasmin!

Sadiq series by Siman Nuurali, Anjan Sarkar

Book one: Sadiq and the Desert Star

“Sadiq’s father is going on a business trip, but before he goes he tells Sadiq a story of the Desert Star, which fits in perfectly with Sadiq’s third grade class field trip to the planetarium, and inspires Sadiq to build a simple telescope to study the stars when his father returns.”

This new series, featuring a Somali American Minnesota kid, was an instant hit at my school. HUGE need for this series to exist.

Critter Club series by Callie Barkley, Marsha Riti

Book one: Amy and the Missing Puppy

“During spring break, mystery-lover Amy looks for clues to the disappearance of wealthy Ms. Sullivan’s Saint Bernard puppy.”

Friendship and animals—a great draw for young readers! Super cute illustrations with the kiddos in varied situations (not all are mysteries).

King & Kayla series by Dori Hillestad Butler, Nancy Meyers

Book one: King & Kayla and the Case of the Missing Dog Treats

“King’s human, Kayla, has baked some treats for a friend’s new puppy, Thor, but some go missing and it is up to King to find the culprit.”

The books in this series are all mysteries and feature great narration from good doggo King.

Craftily Ever After series by Martha Maker, Xindi Yan

Book one: The Un-Friendship Bracelet

“Best friends Emily and Maddie have one big thing in common: they love to craft and create! Whether it’s making art with balloons, cities of cardboard and straws, or the matching friendship bracelets they wear, they’re always coming up with fresh ideas. But when a new student named Bella shows up at school, their friendship is put to the test. Maddie immediately befriends her and discovers that Bella is just as crafty as she and Emily are! As Maddie and Bella spend more time together, Emily finds herself spending more time alone. Then, when Emily’s friendship bracelet falls off, she begins to think that maybe it was an un-friendship bracelet this whole time. Will the friends find their craftily ever after?”

Sofia Martinez series by Jacqueline Jules, Kim Smith

Book one: My Family Adventure

“Follow 7-year-old Sofia Martinez as she deals with her family and daily adventures.”

I love Sofia! Like the Zapato series, this series includes lots of Spanish words that, for the most part, can be easily deciphered by non Spanish speakers, though this series does include a glossary.

Desmond Cole, Ghost Patrol series by Andres Miedoso, Victor Rivas

Book one: The Haunted House Next Door

“When supernatural things start happening in the house timid Andres and his parents just moved into, next-door-neighbor Desmond Cole, eight, comes to the rescue.”

We are forever being asked for “scary books” or “creepy books.” While these are certainly not actually scary or creepy, they seem to fit the bill for early readers.

Eerie Elementary series by Jack Chabert, Sam Ricks

Book one: The School Is Alive!

“Sam Graves discovers that his elementary school is alive and plotting against the students, and, as hall monitor, it is his job to protect them – but he will need some help from his friends.”

This series, too, is satisfyingly “scary” for younger readers.

The Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings

Book one: Rise of the Balloon Goons

“Alexander has just moved into Stermont, but the elementary school is being torn down, his new classroom is located in the hospital morgue, a notebook he finds is full of information about monsters and everywhere he turns there are spooky balloon men determined to attack him.”

Why yes, ANOTHER spooky series! Extremely popular at my school!

Owl Diaries series by Rebecca Elliott

Book one: Eva’s Treetop Festival

“This full-color, highly illustrated diary series is perfect for young readers who love friendship stories starring animal characters! Eva Wingdale gets in over her head when she offers to organize a spring festival at school. Will Eva have to ask Sue (a.k.a. Meanie McMeanerson) for help? Or will the festival have to be cancelled?”

Press Start series by Thomas Flintham

Book one: Game Over, Super Rabbit Boy!

“When King Viking and his evil robot army attack Animal Town, and kidnap Singing Dog, it is up to Super Rabbit Boy, with some help from Sunny and his video game console, to save the day.”

Do the children at your school or in your life suffer from video game mania? Probably. This gaming-based series flies off our shelves.

Molly Mac series by Marty Kelley

Book one: Tooth Fairy Trouble

“When Molly Mac loses her first tooth, talk of the Tooth Fairy makes her head spin! What does the Tooth Fairy do with all of those teeth anyway? Molly and her best friend, Kayley, decide to investigate. When Molly figures out what happens to her lost tooth, will she approve?”

Heidi Heckelbeck series by Wanda Coven, Priscilla Burris

Book one: Heidi Heckelbeck Has a Secret

After being homeschooled her whole life, Heidi Heckelbeck enters a real school in second grade, where she encounters a mean girl named Melanie who makes her feel like an alien.

Crash Course: Graphic novels for younger readers

Earlier this month, I shared a bunch of recent picture books that focus on community, caring, inclusivity, and connections. Today, I’m looking at graphic novels that are popular in the elementary library where I work. Just like I firmly believe picture books are for people of all ages, and have value and usefulness for people beyond the “recommended” age group, graphic novels also have wider appeal than their suggested ages may indicate. Even if you just work with older teens, it’s useful to know about these books that may be more widely read by younger readers, but will certainly find older audiences.

The graphic novel returns from just one class.

I did a recent post with mini-reviews of a bunch of graphic novels (they’re kind of my go-to read when my brain feels super overwhelmed). Karen has also posted quite a bit about graphic novels, and Ally often does comics and graphic novel roundups, too. Pop “graphic novels” into our search bar and check out some of these other great resources!

As with every post, we always want to hear from you. If you work with younger readers or have younger kids in your life, what graphic novels are they loving? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter!

We recently moved the graphic novel section, so now it’s right around the corner from my desk. Saves me a lot of walking!

I ran a report at work to see what our top 50 books of the past year looked like. I did a post at the end of the school year that showed our top 25, if you’re interested. Of our top 50 for the past year, there were six Dog Man titles, four Amulet books, and three Raina Telgemeier books. The graphic novel look at school is FIERCE. I have lots of conversations with adults that are like this one:

And a lot of conversations with kids that are like this one:

Whether you’re looking to learn a bit more yourself, searching for a new book or series to hand to a young person in your life, or hoping to do some collection development, let’s dive in!

Compass South: A Graphic Novel (Four Points Series #1) by Hope Larson, Rebecca Mock (Illustrator)

Pirates pursue 12-year-old twins in the 1860s. Lots of action and adventure. The sequel, Knife’s Edge, offers up further danger and possible treasure.

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

So good. Russian American Vera hopes she’ll fit in at camp more than her school, but camp isn’t as great as she’d hoped. Shows how complex the social dynamics of childhood can be. Muted colors work well for the general feeling of misery.

The Mystery Boxes (Explorer Series #1) by Kazu Kibuishi (Editor)

What’s inside the mystery box? A group of great graphic novelists offer up their answers in these short comics. Series also includes The Hidden Door and The Lost Islands.

New Kid by Jerry Craft

SO enjoyable. We definitely need more graphic novels featuring black kids. Fantastic full-color art enhances this story of racism, privilege, day-to-day middle school issues, and fitting in.

March Grand Prix series by Kean Soo

Animal racecar drivers? Yes, please!

Secret Coders series by Gene Luen Yang, Mike Holmes (Illustrator)

Clues, puzzles, and mysteries all just waiting to be solved by smart kids and coding!

Mega Princess series by Kelly Thompson

Princess Max (with the help of her jerk pony) would rather be a detective than a princess who has all of the powers of all princesses ever.

Phoebe and Her Unicorn Series by Dana Simpson

Friendship and hijinks in the vein of Calvin and Hobbes. Phoebe’s reluctant new best friend, unicorn Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, helps her feel less lonely.

And speaking of Calvin and Hobbes….

… these still circulate like mad at school. This makes me happy! In elementary school, my own kiddo went through a HARDCORE Calvin and Hobbes phase, even going as Stuependous Man for superhero day at school!

Lucy and Andy Neanderthal Series #1 by Jeffrey Brown

Stone Age kids and plenty of humor.

Click by Kayla Miller

Absolutely charming and great. A really heartfelt and positive exploration of friendship, fitting in, and standing out. Fortunately, it looks like this is the first in a series about Olive’s adventures. Sequel called Camp!

Q and Ray series by Trisha Speed Shaskan, Stephen Shaskan (Illustrator)

Adorable animal detectives are on the case! Great for lower grades.

Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson

Emmie and Friends series. Middle school look at friendship, popularity, confidence, and embarrassment. Heartfelt and relatable.

Narwhal and Jelly Series by Ben Clanton

Silly and cute, this series focuses on friendship.

Lowriders series by by Cathy Camper, Raúl the Third (Illustrator)

A bunch of pals who love working on cars have wild adventures in space and (in the sequel) the underworld.

The Cardboard Kingdom by Chad Sell and friends

I love the emphasis on creativity, imagination, and working together as well as the creative play that allows you to imagine yourself however you’d like to be—or to show the world how you really are.

Hilo series by Judd Winick

Hilo’s not from around here—he fell from the sky! He and his new friends uncover all kinds of creatures and have lots of adventures.

Cleopatra in Space series by Mike Maihack

Cleopatra is zapped far into the future, where (no pressure) she has to save the galaxy. VERY popular at my school.

Bird & Squirrel series by James Burks

A scared squirrel and bold bird make for unlikely friends, but together they can face anything!

I could keep going, but WHEW, that’s already a lot of books. Happy reading!

Crash Course: Recent picture books on community, caring, inclusivity, and connections

I currently work in an elementary school library. I’ve bounced around over the years: bookseller at a children’s indie during graduate school at Simmons; children’s librarian; a few years in a high school library; a stint at a large public library doing teen programming and reference stuff. This year when not at the elementary library, I’ve kept busy with lots of other projects. I presented on Social Justice and Activism at Teen Lit Con, did a giant project for School Library Journal on nonfiction series for grades K to 12, served on School Library Journal’s Best Books committee, wrote reviews for SLJ, wrote a billion posts for TLT on YA literature and advocacy, and worked on my own novels. I believe in being busy and in variety. All that’s to say that if you know me through TLT you may not know I spend my days with little kids, and if you know me from my work with little kids, you may not know that it’s just one of the hats I wear. I like my skill set to be like a Swiss Army knife of knowledge—I can bust out a book recommendation for any age and any situation. I don’t have many talents, but I do have that going for me.

TLT may be focused on teens, but I like to include books and information for other ages, especially because so many of us work with various age levels or have kids of all ages in our lives. Also, many books can hold appeal for ages well beyond their “recommended” age range.

Whether you’re looking to just keep current, or read TLT a lot but actually work with younger kids, or need some ideas for gifts for people in your life, this short Crash Course series I’m going to do over my next few posts will give you lots of info. The topics I’m very broadly looking at here—community, caring, inclusivity, and connections—are ones teachers at my school are always looking for and are ideas that my coworker and I in the library are always looking to promote.

Have other suggestions to add to this list? Let us know in the comments or over on Twitter!

Be sure to check back for the four more posts coming in this series this month!

One of my favorite recent books!

We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins (2018)

A young dino is super excited to go to school, but learns her new classmates are children… which are delicious. Themes of friendship and getting along.

The Wall in the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee (2018)

The things are the other side of the wall are perceived as threats, but the little knight character learns his side is not what he thinks and that the other side may be safe and welcoming.

All of Us by Carin Berger (2018)

Themes of friendship and community show that we are stronger together.

Let the Children March by Monica Clark-Robinson, Frank Morrison (Illustrator) (2018)

Elevates children’s voices and shows them as important activists. Themes of civil rights, segregation, activism, and change.

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold, Suzanne Kaufman (Illustrator) (2018)

Yay for diversity and inclusion! Everyone is welcome at school! A look at how we learn, grow, and share our traditions.

Mixed: A Colorful Story by Arree Chung (2018)

Colors move to separate spaces but then eventually two get together to create a baby/new color. Themes of prejudice, segregation, tolerance, and acceptance.

Don’t Touch My Hair! by Sharee Miller (2018)

Seriously. Don’t do this. Don’t touch ANYONE’s hair.

My Papi Has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero, Zeke Pena (Illustrator) (2019)

Excellent father-daughter relationship and look at community.

Try a Little Kindness: A Guide to Being Better by Henry Cole (2018)

Kindness is always a big theme at school. Animals show kindness here in various ways, like sharing, helping, and being polite. Themes of friendship and helping.

The Rabbit Listened by Cori Doerrfeld (2018)

Instead of offering solutions or suggesting how the character should feel or react, the rabbit just listens and provides comfort through that simple but important act. Themes of emotions, loss, and processing feelings.

Saffron Ice Cream by Rashin Kheiriyeh (2018)

A young Iranian Muslilm girl is excited to be going to Coney Island but misses the ice cream from back home. Compares life in Iran versus life now in Brooklyn. Themes of friendship, connection, immigrants, and cultures.

I Like, I Don’t Like by Anna Baccelliere, Ale + Ale (Illustrator) (2017)

Looks a privilege and poverty through the Right to Play.

Marwan’s Journey by Patricia de Arias, Laura Borras (Illustrator) (2018)

The journey of one young immigrant boy filled with uncertainty and hope. Themes of immigrants, refugees, courage, and home.

Nothing Rhymes with Orange by Adam Rex (2017)

Poor Orange is left out of all the rhyming fruit fun. Themes of loneliness and friendship.

Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller, Jen Hill (Illustrator) (2018)

Explores just what it means to be kind and shows that small acts can be meaningful. Themes of bullying, kindness, helping, friendship, values, and feelings.

Me and My Fear by Francesca Sanna (2018)

At a new school in a new country, the main character’s fear dominates everything until she makes new connections and realizes everyone has fears. Themes of emotions, friendship, and worries.

I Am Human: A Book of Empathy by Susan Verde, Peter H. Reynolds (Illustrator) (2018)

Understanding universal feelings like hope, hurt, happiness, and sadness. Themes of compassion and empathy.

When You Are Brave by Pat Zietlow Miller, Eliza Wheeler (Illustrator) (2019)

Facing new things can be scary. Themes of courage, fears, and overcoming obstacles.

Peaceful Fights for Equal Rights by Rob Sanders, Jared Andrew Schorr (Illustrator) (2018)

Teaching young students to RESIST! Themes of politics, activism, and peaceful protest.

First Laugh–Welcome, Baby! by Rose Ann Tahe, Nancy Bo Flood, Jonathan Nelson (2018)

About Navajo families and the First Laugh ceremony.

I Love My Colorful Nails by Alicia Acosta, Luis Amavisca, Gusti (Illustrator) (2019)

A young boy loves to paint his nails, and has a supportive family, but is teased at school. Eventually, his peers come around. Themes of gender expression, gender noncomformity, bullying, and friendship.

I Walk with Vanessa: A Story About a Simple Act of Kindness by Kerascoet (2018)

Wordless. All it takes is one brave and kind child to show others how to behave and include someone who has been bullied.

Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal (2018)

Wondering why she has so many names, Alma learns about her ancestors.

Not All Heroes Wear Capes by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos (2019)

Looks at the ways we can be kind and help and shows people in our community at work. Themes of volunteering, helping, and building community.

Say Something! by Peter H. Reynolds (2019)

You can make a difference! Themes of action, injustice, multiculturalism, and speaking up.

It Feels Good to Be Yourself: A Book About Gender Identity by Theresa Thorn, Noah Grigni (Illustrator) (2019)

A wonderfully inclusive and important look at gender identity. I love this book.

Under My Hijab by Hena Khan, Aaliya Jaleel (Illustrator) (2019)

A little girl observes the different way women wear their hijab and their hair.

Home Is a Window by Stephanie Ledyard, Chris Sasaki (Illustrator) (2019)

A great story about family, home, and dealing with change.

The Buddy Bench by Patty Brozo, Mike Deas (Illustrator) (2019)

A class builds a buddy bench where classmates can wait to be invited to play. Themes of inclusivity, friendship, and loneliness.

Does your school have a buddy bench? Mine does!