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Post-It Reviews: Elementary and middle grade summer reads part 2

Here are some quick reviews of a few of the books I’ve read and enjoyed over the past few months.

Post-It Note reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary.

Lemons by Melissa Savage

The search for Bigfoot gets juicy in this funny and touching story that’s perfect for fans of Kate DiCamillo’s Flora & Ulysses and the movie Smallfoot!

Lemonade Liberty Witt’s mama always told her: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade. But Lem can’t possibly make lemonade out of her new life in Willow Creek, California—the Bigfoot Capital of the World—where she’s forced to live with a grandfather she’s never met after her mother passes away.

Then she meets eleven-year-old Tobin Sky, the CEO of Bigfoot Detectives Inc., who is the sole Bigfoot investigator for their small town. After he invites Lem to be his assistant for the summer, they set out on an epic adventure to capture a shot of the elusive beast on film. But along the way, Lem and Tobin end up discovering more than they ever could have imagined. And Lem realizes that maybe she can make lemonade out of her new life after all.

(POST-IT SAYS: Set in 1975, this is a surprisingly deep look at grief and loss–surprising because of the whimsical cover and Bigfoot angle. A lot of issues are packed into this story and all are skillfully, realistically, and empathetically handled. A great read. Ages 8-12)

Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido

In this innovative middle grade novel, coding and music take center stage as new girl Emmy tries to find her place in a new school. Perfect for fans of GIRLS WHO CODE series and THE CROSSOVER.

In a new city, at a new school, twelve-year-old Emmy has never felt more out of tune. Things start to look up when she takes her first coding class, unexpectedly connecting with the material—and Abigail, a new friend—through a shared language: music. But when Emmy gets bad news about their computer teacher, and finds out Abigail isn’t being entirely honest about their friendship, she feels like her new life is screeching to a halt. Despite these obstacles, Emmy is determined to prove one thing: that, for the first time ever, she isn’t a wrong note, but a musician in the world’s most beautiful symphony.

(POST-IT SAYS: This will be a hit with a lot of readers: readers who like books in verse; readers who like coding (and verse written in Javascript–whoa!); readers who are exploring their interests; and readers who are navigating new schools/friendships/places. Super innovative format and good messages about being yourself. Ages 10-13)

Emily Out of Focus by Miriam Spitzer Franklin

Twelve-year-old Emily is flying with her parents to China to adopt and bring home a new baby sister. She’s excited but nervous to travel across the world and very aware that this trip will change her entire life. And the cracks are already starting to show the moment they reach the hotel—her parents are all about the new baby, and have no interest in exploring.

In the adoption trip group, Emily meets Katherine, a Chinese-American girl whose family has returned to China to adopt a second child. The girls eventually become friends and Katherine reveals a secret: she’s determined to find her birth mother, and she wants Emily’s help.

New country, new family, new responsibilities—it’s all a lot to handle, and Emily has never felt more alone.

From the author of Extraordinary and Call Me SunflowerEmily Out of Focus is a warm and winning exploration of the complexity of family, friendship, and identity that readers will love.

(POST-IT SAYS: Emily learns a lot about family, friendship, adoption, and herself as she explores Changsha. Readers will learn a lot about the adoption process, including Katherine’s feelings on adoption and (in an author’s note) Franklin’s own experience adopting a child from China. Ages 8-12)

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes

From award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful novel set fifteen years after the 9/11 attacks. 

When her fifth-grade teacher hints that a series of lessons about home and community will culminate with one big answer about two tall towers once visible outside their classroom window, Dèja can’t help but feel confused. She sets off on a journey of discovery, with new friends Ben and Sabeen by her side. But just as she gets closer to answering big questions about who she is, what America means, and how communities can grow (and heal), she uncovers new questions, too. Like, why does Pop get so angry when she brings up anything about the towers? 

Award-winning author Jewell Parker Rhodes tells a powerful story about young people who weren’t alive to witness this defining moment in history, but begin to realize how much it colors their every day.

(POST-IT SAYS: This is a nominee for a Minnesota award voted on by kids, so I’m curious to get student feedback on this from actual kids born post-9/11. Provides a vivid look at the events of that day, but much is watered down/sweetened for the young audience. Ages 8-12)

Wish by Barbara O’Connor

A touching story about a girl and her dog, perfect for young animal lovers

Eleven-year-old Charlie Reese has been making the same secret wish every day since fourth grade. She even has a list of all the ways there are to make the wish, such as cutting off the pointed end of a slice of pie and wishing on it as she takes the last bite. But when she is sent to the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to live with family she barely knows, it seems unlikely that her wish will ever come true. That is until she meets

Wishbone, a skinny stray dog who captures her heart, and Howard, a neighbor boy who proves surprising in lots of ways. Suddenly Charlie is in serious danger of discovering that what she thought she wanted may not be what she needs at all.

From award-winning author Barbara O’Connor comes a middle-grade novel about a girl who, with the help of a true-blue friend, a big-hearted aunt and uncle, and the dog of her dreams, unexpectedly learns the true meaning of family in the least likely of places.

(POST-IT SAYS: Fantastic setting and well-developed, unforgettable characters make this heartfelt story stand out. Charlie is so complicated—angry, vulnerable, lonely, wishful—and her voice here shines. Really lovely. Ages 9-12)

Framed! (Framed! Series #1) by James Ponti

Get to know the only kid on the FBI Director’s speed dial and several international criminals’ most wanted lists all because of his Theory of All Small Things in this hilarious start to a brand-new middle grade mystery series.

So you’re only halfway through your homework and the Director of the FBI keeps texting you for help…What do you do? Save your grade? Or save the country?

If you’re Florian Bates, you figure out a way to do both.

Florian is twelve years old and has just moved to Washington. He’s learning his way around using TOAST, which stands for the Theory of All Small Things. It’s a technique he invented to solve life’s little mysteries such as: where to sit on the on the first day of school, or which Chinese restaurant has the best eggrolls.

But when he teaches it to his new friend Margaret, they uncover a mystery that isn’t little. In fact, it’s HUGE, and it involves the National Gallery, the FBI, and a notorious crime syndicate known as EEL.

Can Florian decipher the clues and finish his homework in time to help the FBI solve the case?

(POST-IT SAYS: Well, now I want to employ the TOAST technique. Fun, smart mystery that’s not at all easily solvable for readers. Can’t wait to read the others in this series. Ages 9-12)

Survivors of the Holocaust: True Stories of Six Extraordinary Children
by Kath Shackleton (Editor), Zane Whittingham (Illustrator), Ryan Jones (Designed by)
(ISBN-13: 9781492688938 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 10/01/2019)

Between 1933 and 1945, Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party were responsible for the persecution of millions of Jews across Europe.

This extraordinary graphic novel tells the true stories of six Jewish children and young people who survived the Holocaust. From suffering the horrors of Auschwitz, to hiding from Nazi soldiers in war-torn Paris, to sheltering from the Blitz in England, each true story is a powerful testament to the survivors’ courage. These remarkable testimonials serve as a reminder never to allow such a tragedy to happen again.

(POST-IT SAYS: WOW. Beautiful presentation of awful stories. The format makes history accessible to those who may struggle with nonfiction. Back matter includes stories of the 6 children’s lives as adults, glossary, timeline, and resources. Ages 10+)

The End of the Wild by Nicole Helget (ISBN-13: 9780316245135 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 06/26/2018)

Now available in paperback, this timely coming of age novel takes on the controversial issues of fracking and environmental protection.

Stay away from my woods.

Eleven-year-old Fern doesn’t have the easiest life. Her stepfather is out of work, and she’s responsible for putting dinner on the table—not to mention keeping her wild younger brothers out of trouble. The woods near their home is her only refuge, where she finds food and plays with her neighbor’s dog. But when a fracking company rolls into town, her special grove could be ripped away, and no one else seems to care.

Her stepfather needs the money that a job with the frackers could bring to their family, and her wealthy grandfather likes the business it brings to their town. Even her best friend doesn’t understand what the land means to Fern. With no one on her side, how can she save the forest that has protected her for so long?

The acclaimed author of Wonder at the Edge of the World weaves a poignant story about life on the poverty line, the environment, friendship and family—and, most of all, finding your place in the world.

(POST-IT SAYS: A moving, thoughtful, and often very sad look at grief, rural poverty, family, and environmental issues. Even though this is a really bleak read, it’s full of love and, ultimately, hope. Ages 9-12)

Kicky’s Post It Note Reviews: In which a Teen tells us what she thinks about Raven, Sweat Pea, Guts and more

The Teen has been read a lot this summer and she’s heart today to share her thoughts with some post it note reviews. She’s brief, concise and to the point. In other words, she’s the exact opposite of me. Because we also talk about the books we read, I sometimes expand on her reviews with some of our follow up conversations.

Publisher’s Book Description

When a tragic accident takes the life of 17-year-old Raven Roth’s foster mom—and Raven’s memory—she moves to New Orleans to recover and finish her senior year of high school.

Starting over isn’t easy. Raven remembers everyday stuff like how to solve math equations and make pasta, but she can’t remember her favorite song or who she was before the accident. And when impossible things start happening, Raven begins to think it might even be better not to know who she was before.

But as she grows closer to her new friends, her foster sister, Max, and Tommy Torres, a guy who accepts her for who she is now, Raven has to decide if she’s ready to face what’s buried in the past… and the darkness building inside her.

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Kami Garcia and first-time graphic novel artist Gabriel Picolo comes this riveting tale of finding the strength to face who you are and learning to trust others—and yourself.

Post It Note Review

“Very quick read. Positive message throughout.”

I asked what the positive message was and The Teen said, “You know how Raven’s dad is a demon. Well she doesn’t want to grow up like her dad and the message is that you don’t have to follow in your parents footsteps, that you can be your own person.”

Publisher’s Book Description

A true story from Raina Telgemeier, the #1 New York 
Times
 bestselling, multiple Eisner Award-winning author of 
SmileSistersDrama, and Ghosts!

Raina wakes up one night with a terrible upset stomach. Her mom has one, too, so it’s probably just a bug. Raina eventually returns to school, where she’s dealing with the usual highs and lows: friends, not-friends, and classmates who think the school year is just one long gross-out session. It soon becomes clear that Raina’s tummy trouble isn’t going away… and it coincides with her worries about food, school, and changing friendships. What’s going on?

Raina Telgemeier once again brings us a thoughtful, charming, and funny true story about growing up and gathering the courage to face — and conquer — her fears.

Post It Note Review

“Shows anxiety very well and supportive family and friends.”

As The Teen herself has an anxiety disorder, it is high praise indeed that she felt that this was a good, honest depiction of anxiety. Thing 2 has also read this book and highly recommends it as well.

Publisher’s Book Description

Barbara Dee explores the subject of #MeToo for the middle grade audience in this heart-wrenching—and ultimately uplifting—novel about experiencing harassment and unwanted attention from classmates.

For seventh grader Mila, it starts with an unwanted hug on the school blacktop.

The next day, it’s another hug. A smirk. Comments. It all feels…weird. According to her friend Zara, Mila is being immature, overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?

But it keeps happening, despite Mila’s protests. On the bus, in the halls. Even during band practice-the one time Mila could always escape to her “blue-sky” feeling. It seems like the boys are EVERYWHERE. And it doesn’t feel like flirting–so what is it?

Mila starts to gain confidence when she enrolls in karate class. But her friends still don’t understand why Mila is making such a big deal about the boys’ attention. When Mila is finally pushed too far, she realizes she can’t battle this on her own–and finds help in some unexpected places.

From the author of STAR-CROSSED, HALFWAY NORMAL and EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice. 

Post It Note Review

“Extremely good & shows how much harassment affects everything.”

When The Teen moved into middle school in the 7th grade, her and her friends really began experiencing a lot of sexual harassment from the boys at school. There were catcalls, swatted behinds and more. When she read the description of this book she told me, “I know this is middle grade and a little young for me, but I really want to read it.” So she did. She said this was a very important and impactful book and she hopes that it is read far and wide.

Publisher’s Book Description

The first middle grade novel from Julie Murphy, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Dumplin’ (now a popular Netflix film), is a funny, heartwarming story perfect for fans of Rebecca Stead, Ali Benjamin, and Holly Goldberg Sloan.

Patricia “Sweet Pea” DiMarco wasn’t sure what to expect when her parents announced they were getting a divorce. She never could have imagined that they would have the “brilliant” idea of living in nearly identical houses on the same street. In the one house between them lives their eccentric neighbor Miss Flora Mae, the famed local advice columnist behind “Miss Flora Mae I?”

Dividing her time between two homes is not easy. And it doesn’t help that at school, Sweet Pea is now sitting right next to her ex–best friend, Kiera, a daily reminder of the friendship that once was. Things might be unbearable if Sweet Pea didn’t have Oscar—her new best friend—and her fifteen-pound cat, Cheese.

Then one day Flora leaves for a trip and asks Sweet Pea to forward her the letters for the column. And Sweet Pea happens to recognize the handwriting on one of the envelopes.

What she decides to do with that letter sets off a chain of events that will forever change the lives of Sweet Pea DiMarco, her family, and many of the readers of “Miss Flora Mae I?”

Post It Note Review

“Super cute and gives a strong message of hope.”

The Teen is a fan of author Julie Murphy so she was pretty happy to read this book. She especially liked how hopeful it was.

Publisher’s Book Description

For fans of Love, Simon and Eleanor and Park, a romantic and sweet novel about a transgender boy who falls in love for the first time—and how first love changes us all—from New York Times bestselling author Amber Smith.

Chris and Maia aren’t off to a great start.

A near-fatal car accident first brings them together, and their next encounters don’t fare much better. Chris’s good intentions backfire. Maia’s temper gets the best of her.

But they’re neighbors, at least for the summer, and despite their best efforts, they just can’t seem to stay away from each other.

The path forward isn’t easy. Chris has come out as transgender, but he’s still processing a frightening assault he survived the year before. Maia is grieving the loss of her older sister and trying to find her place in the world without her. Falling in love was the last thing on either of their minds.

But would it be so bad if it happened anyway? 

Post It Note Review

“I think this relationship was toxic and harmful but at least it’s LGBTQ+ affirming.”

This is one of several books lately where The Teen has come to me upset because she has felt that the relationship presented in the book is toxic and she just couldn’t route for or buy into the relationship. We talk a lot about toxic relationships vs. healthy relationships and I’m thankful every time that books help us have those conversations. She’s conflicted about this book because she was very happy with how LGBTQIA+ affirming it was but didn’t really like the relationship. All the professional reviews I read mention that both participants often are truthful with each other while holding things back and I think it was this aspect that she struggled with. You can read author Amber Smith’s post Out and Proud (On the Page and In Real Life): My Long and Not-Straight Journey to Self-Acceptance here.

Post-It Note Reviews: Elementary and middle grade summer reads part 1

Here are some quick reviews of a few of the books I’ve read and enjoyed over the past few months.

Post-It Note reviews are a great way to display books in your library or classroom, a way to let kids recommend their favorite titles without having to get up in front of everyone and do a book talk, and an easy way to offer a more personal recommendation than just the flap copy offers.

All summaries are from the publishers. Transcription of Post-it note review under the summary.

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy: A Graphic Novel: A Modern Retelling of Little Women by Rey Terciero, Bre Indigo (Illustrator)

2018 marks the 150th anniversary of the classic Little Women by Louisa May Alcott. Join Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy as they are reenvisioned as a blended family living in modern day NYC in this beautiful, full-color graphic novel that’s perfect for fans of Raina Telemeier’s Smile, Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward, and Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl

Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy are having a really tough year: Not only is their father overseas with the military and their working overtime to make ends meet, but each girl is struggling with her own unique problems. Whether it’s school woes, health issues, boy troubles, or simply feeling lost, the March sisters all need the same thing: support from each other. By coming together–and sharing lots of laughs and tears–these four young women find the courage to discover who they truly are as individuals…and as a family.

Meg is the eldest March. She has a taste for the finer things in life–especially when it comes to clothes and parties–and dreams of marrying rich and leaving her five-floor walk-up apartment behind.

Jo pushes her siblings to be true to themselves, yet feels like no one will accept her for who she truly is. Her passion for writing gives her an outlet to feel worthy in the eyes of her friends and family.

Beth is the timid sister with a voice begging to be heard. Guitar in hand, her courage inspires her siblings to seize the day and not take life for granted.

Amy may be the baby of the family, but she has the biggest personality. Though she loves to fight with her sisters, her tough exterior protects a vulnerable heart that worries about her family’s future.

(POST-IT SAYS: Readers don’t need to know the original story to be able to enjoy this modern retelling. The strong, spirited March sisters shine in this story of acceptance, resilience, ambition, justice, and love. The appealing art will make readers grab this off the shelf. Ages 9-13)

Sal and Gabi Break the Universe (Sal and Gabi Series #1) by Carlos Hernandez

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents a brilliant sci-fi romp with Cuban influence that poses this question: What would you do if you had the power to reach through time and space and retrieve anything you want, including your mother, who is no longer living (in this universe, anyway)?

How did a raw chicken get inside Yasmany’s locker?

When Sal Vidon meets Gabi Real for the first time, it isn’t under the best of circumstances. Sal is in the principal’s office for the third time in three days, and it’s still the first week of school. Gabi, student council president and editor of the school paper, is there to support her friend Yasmany, who just picked a fight with Sal. She is determined to prove that somehow, Sal planted a raw chicken in Yasmany’s locker, even though nobody saw him do it and the bloody poultry has since mysteriously disappeared. 
Sal prides himself on being an excellent magician, but for this sleight of hand, he relied on a talent no one would guess . . . except maybe Gabi, whose sharp eyes never miss a trick. When Gabi learns that he’s capable of conjuring things much bigger than a chicken—including his dead mother—and she takes it all in stride, Sal knows that she is someone he can work with. There’s only one slight problem: their manipulation of time and space could put the entire universe at risk.


A sassy entropy sweeper, a documentary about wedgies, a principal who wears a Venetian bauta mask, and heaping platefuls of Cuban food are just some of the delights that await in his mind-blowing novel gift-wrapped in love and laughter.

(POST-IT SAYS: A wild sci-fi adventure full of diverse characters, magic, humor, weirdness, Spanish, multiverses, and interdimensional chickens. This completely wacky, fun book features mostly Cuban-American characters. Ages 10-14)

The Moon Within by Aida Salazar

Celi Rivera’s life swirls with questions. About her changing body. Her first attraction to a boy. And her best friend’s exploration of what it means to be genderfluid.

But most of all, her mother’s insistence she have a moon ceremony when her first period arrives. It’s an ancestral Mexica ritual that Mima and her community have reclaimed, but Celi promises she will NOT be participating. Can she find the power within herself to take a stand for who she wants to be?

A dazzling story told with the sensitivity, humor, and brilliant verse of debut talent Aida Salazar.

(Post-It says: Stunning, gorgeous, and unique. A moving exploration of self, identity, ceremony, and culture. Authentic and moving, this quietly powerful book should be in all collections for ages 9-12.)

The Lost Girl by Anne Ursu

Anne Ursu, author of the National Book Award nominee The Real Boy, returns with a story of the power of fantasy, the limits of love, and the struggles inherent in growing up.

When you’re an identical twinyour story always starts with someone else. For Iris, that means her story starts with Lark.

Iris has always been the grounded, capable, and rational one; Lark has been inventive, dreamy, and brilliant—and from their first moments in the world together, they’ve never left each other’s side. Everyone around them realized early on what the two sisters already knew: they had better outcomes when they were together.

When fifth grade arrives, however, it’s decided that Iris and Lark should be split into different classrooms, and something breaks in them both.

Iris is no longer so confident; Lark retreats into herself as she deals with challenges at school. And at the same time, something strange is happening in the city around them, things both great and small going missing without a trace.

As Iris begins to understand that anything can be lost in the blink of an eye, she decides it’s up to her to find a way to keep her sister safe.

(POST-IT SAYS: An extremely satisfying read about magic, monsters, empowerment, feminism, independence, and mystery. Great world-building. I want to join their Awesome girl gang and defeat the monsters (and the patriarchy!). Ages 8-12)

Dissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Life and Work by Victoria Ortiz

The life and career of the fiercely principled Supreme Court Justice, now a popular icon, with dramatic accounts of her landmark cases that moved the needle on legal protection of human rights, illustrated with b/w archival photographs.

Dramatically narrated case histories from Justice Ginsburg’s stellar career are interwoven with an account of RBG’s life—childhood, family, beliefs, education, marriage, legal and judicial career, children, and achievements—and her many-faceted personality is captured. The cases described, many involving young people, demonstrate her passionate concern for gender equality, fairness, and our constitutional rights. Notes, bibliography, index.

(POST-IT SAYS: While I get why most chapters start with cases involving teens/important court cases, I really wanted a more straightforward biography. That quibble aside, this is a solid introduction to RBG and her history of questioning systems and pursuing equality. Ages 12+)

Apocalypse Taco by Nathan Hale

Sid, Axl, and Ivan volunteer to make a late-night fast-food run for the high school theater crew, and when they return, they find themselves. Not in a deep, metaphoric sense: They find copies of themselves onstage. As they look closer, they begin to realize that the world around them isn’t quite right. Turns out, when they went to the taco place across town, they actually crossed into an alien dimension that’s eerily similar to their world. The aliens have made sinister copies of cars, buildings, and people—and they all want to get Sid, Axl, and Ivan. Now the group will have to use their wits, their truck, and even their windshield scraper to escape! But they may be too late. They may now be copies themselves . . .

(POST-IT SAYS: Delightfully weird, this creepy and unsettling look at bioengineering gone very wrong will appeal to readers who like truly strange stories. Ages 9-13)

Aru Shah and the Song of Death by Roshani Chokshi

Best-selling author Rick Riordan presents best-selling author Roshani Chokshi and her sequel to Aru Shah and the End of Time. Aru is only just getting the hang of this whole Pandava thing when the Otherworld goes into full panic mode. The god of love’s bow and arrow have gone missing, and the thief isn’t playing Cupid. Instead, they’re turning people into heartless fighting-machine zombies. If that weren’t bad enough, somehow Aru gets framed as the thief. If she doesn’t find the arrow by the next full moon, she’ll be kicked out of the Otherworld. For good. But, for better or worse, she won’t be going it alone. Along with her soul-sister, Mini, Aru will team up with Brynne, an ultra-strong girl who knows more than she lets on, and Aiden, the boy who lives across the street and is also hiding plenty of secrets. Together they’ll battle demons, travel through a glittering and dangerous serpent realm, and discover that their enemy isn’t at all who they expected.

(POST-IT SAYS: Book #2 in the Pandava Quartet. A great fast-paced quest. This solid fantasy also has lots of humor. I’m not much of a fantasy reader, but I find these so fun. Diversify your fantasy collection! Ages 9-12)

Just Jaime by Terri Libenson

Another spot-on story of middle school drama and friendship from Terri Libenson, national bestselling author of Invisible Emmie and Positively Izzy.

Friends. Frenemies. Middle school…

The last day of seventh grade has Jaime and Maya wondering who their real friends are.

Jaime knows something is off with her friend group. They’ve started to exclude her and make fun of the way she dresses and the things she likes. At least she can count on her BFF, Maya, to have her back . . . right?

Maya feels more and more annoyed with Jaime, who seems babyish compared to the other girls in their popular group. It’s like she has nothing in common with Jai anymore. Are their days as BFFs numbered . . . ?

Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Jennifer L. Holm.

(POST-IT SAYS: The first two books by this author are VERY popular at my school. Fans of Shannon Hale’s Real Friends will especially like this look at middle school drama and fickle friends. An ultimately hopeful reassurance about finding your people. Ages 8-12)

Pie in the Sky by Remy Lai

A poignant, laugh-out-loud illustrated middle-grade novel about an eleven-year-old boy’s immigration experience, his annoying little brother, and their cake-baking hijinks!

An Amazon Best Book of the Month and recipient of FIVE starred reviews!

“Pie in the Sky is like enjoying a decadent cake . . . heartwarming and rib-tickling.” —Terri Libenson, bestselling author of Invisible Emmie

When Jingwen moves to a new country, he feels like he’s landed on Mars. School is torture, making friends is impossible since he doesn’t speak English, and he’s often stuck looking after his (extremely irritating) little brother, Yanghao.

To distract himself from the loneliness, Jingwen daydreams about making all the cakes on the menu of Pie in the Sky, the bakery his father had planned to open before he unexpectedly passed away. The only problem is his mother has laid down one major rule: the brothers are not to use the oven while she’s at work. As Jingwen and Yanghao bake elaborate cakes, they’ll have to cook up elaborate excuses to keep the cake making a secret from Mama.

In her hilarious, moving middle-grade debut, Remy Lai delivers a scrumptious combination of vibrant graphic art and pitch-perfect writing that will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Real Friends, Kelly Yang’s Front Desk, and Jerry Craft’s New Kid.

(POST-IT SAYS: Much to love here. Set in Australia, this illustrated novel looks at family, grief, and assimilation through a heartfelt, sometimes humorous, cake-filled lens. Really great. Ages 9-13)

The Good Boy Squad posing with Pie in the Sky. They’re glad it’s summer and I’m home all the time. Nothing they like more than when I sit down to read!

Good Enough: A Novel by Jen Petro-Roy

A young girl with an eating disorder must find the strength to recover in this moving middle-grade novel from Jen Petro-Roy

Before she had an eating disorder, twelve-year-old Riley was many things: an aspiring artist, a runner, a sister, and a friend.

But now, from inside the inpatient treatment center where she’s receiving treatment for anorexia, it’s easy to forget all of that. Especially since under the influence of her eating disorder, Riley alienated her friends, abandoned her art, turned running into something harmful, and destroyed her family’s trust.

If Riley wants her life back, she has to recover. Part of her wants to get better. As she goes to therapy, makes friends in the hospital, and starts to draw again, things begin to look up.

But when her roommate starts to break the rules, triggering Riley’s old behaviors and blackmailing her into silence, Riley realizes that recovery will be even harder than she thought. She starts to think that even if she does “recover,” there’s no way she’ll stay recovered once she leaves the hospital and is faced with her dieting mom, the school bully, and her gymnastics-star sister.

Written by an eating disorder survivor and activist, Good Enough is a realistic depiction of inpatient eating disorder treatment, and a moving story about a girl who has to fight herself to survive.

(POST-IT SAYS: A valuable and intense story of eating disorders, triggers, treatment, and recovery. Petro-Roy brings compassion and authenticity to Riley’s story. Though sometimes hard to read, this hopeful story is important. Ages 9-13)

Some Places More Than Others by Renee Watson

From Newbery Honor- and Coretta Scott King Author Award-winning, New York Times bestselling author Renée Watson comes a heartwarming and inspiring middle-grade novel about finding deep roots and exploring the past, the present, and the places that make us who we are.

All Amara wants for her birthday is to visit her father’s family in New York City—Harlem, to be exact. She can’t wait to finally meet her Grandpa Earl and cousins in person, and to stay in the brownstone where her father grew up. Maybe this will help her understand her family—and herself—in new way.

But New York City is not exactly what Amara thought it would be. It’s crowded, with confusing subways, suffocating sidewalks, and her father is too busy with work to spend time with her and too angry to spend time with Grandpa Earl. As she explores, asks questions, and learns more and more about Harlem and about her father and his family history, she realizes how, in some ways more than others, she connects with him, her home, and her family.

(POST-IT SAYS: Renee Watson never disappoints. Amara’s exploration of New York, family, and African American history is really beautiful and full of pride and love. Though a bit slow to start, readers will enjoy Amara’s journey. Ages 9-12)

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

A picture book that introduces the concept of gender identity to the youngest reader from writer Theresa Thorn and illustrator Noah Grigni.

Some people are boys. Some people are girls. Some people are both, neither, or somewhere in between.

This sweet, straightforward exploration of gender identity will give children a fuller understanding of themselves and others. With child-friendly language and vibrant art, It Feels Good to Be Yourself provides young readers and parents alike with the vocabulary to discuss this important topic with sensitivity.

(POST-IT SAYS: What a lovely, affirming, important book. Author has a trans kiddo and illustrator is non-binary trans. Includes a glossary, resources, and a note about pronouns. A joyful, loving look at how expansive gender is. Ages 4+)

The Crossover (Graphic Novel) by Kwame Alexander, Dawud Anyabwile (Illustrator)

Kwame Alexander’s NYT Bestseller and Newbery Medal winning The Crossover is vividly brought to life as a graphic novel with stunning illustrations by star talent Dawud Anyabwile. 

New York Timesbestseller · Newbery Medal Winner · Coretta Scott King Honor Award · 2015 YALSA 2015 Top Ten Best Fiction for Young Adults · 2015 YALSA Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers · Publishers Weekly Best Book · School Library Journal Best Book · Kirkus Best Book

“A beautifully measured novel of life and line.”The New York Times Book Review

The Crossover is now a graphic novel!

“With a bolt of lightning on my kicks . . . The court is SIZZLING. My sweat is DRIZZLING. Stop all that quivering. ’Cuz tonight I’m delivering,” raps twelve-year-old Josh Bell. Thanks to their dad, he and his twin brother, Jordan, are kings on the court. But Josh has more than basketball in his blood—he’s got mad beats, too, which help him find his rhythm when it’s all on the line.

See the Bell family in a whole new light through Dawud Anyabwile’s dynamic illustrations as the brothers’ winning season unfolds, and the world as they know it begins to change.

(POST-IT SAYS: This fantastic novel is made even better as a graphic novel. Alexander’s dynamic verse is enhanced by the sprawling, lively art that conveys so many emotions. Will fly off the shelves. Ages 9-13)

Book Review: You Be You!: The Kid’s Guide to Gender, Sexuality, and Family by Jonathan Branfman, Julie Benbassat (Illustrator)

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal

Gr 3–6—This conversational primer on gender, sexuality, and family supports and affirms all identities, urging readers to see and value all human experiences. The author posits that the narrow and conventional ideas many children are taught—born a boy or girl, marry someone of the “opposite” sex, have children, conform to gender roles—are untrue, and “that’s great news!” Instead, a world of possibility is open to all children. Full of joyful, bright, comic-style illustrations, this brief guide touches on assigned sexes, people who are intersex, stereotypes, and gender identity. The author clarifies that marriage and children are a choice, not an expectation, and explains discrimination (looking specifically at sexism, transphobia, homophobia, and biphobia), privilege, intersectionality, and what it means to be an ally. Readers learn definitions for identities and orientations like genderqueer, nonbinary, gender-fluid, transgender, cisgender, asexual, aromantic, bisexual, and pansexual. This supportive, educational look at identities offers constant reminders that no matter your chosen identity, whoever you love is great. A varied depiction of ethnicities, races, abilities, ages, and body shapes are shown in the vibrant illustrations. This guide could easily be read together with younger readers; certainly many older readers, including adults, could benefit from this quick and easy look at acceptance. 

VERDICT This inclusive and respectful guide should be part of all curricula about family, gender, and sexuality. Short, accessible, and important.

ISBN-13: 9781787750104
Publisher: Kingsley, Jessica Publishers
Publication date: 07/18/2019

Book Review: Let’s Call It a Doomsday by Katie Henry

Publisher’s description

An engrossing and thoughtful contemporary tale that tackles faith, friendship, family, anxiety, and the potential apocalypse from Katie Henry, the acclaimed author of Heretics Anonymous.

There are many ways the world could end. A fire. A catastrophic flood. A super eruption that spews lakes of lava. Ellis Kimball has made note of all possible scenarios, and she is prepared for each one.

What she doesn’t expect is meeting Hannah Marks in her therapist’s waiting room. Hannah calls their meeting fate. After all, Ellis is scared about the end of the world; Hannah knows when it’s going to happen.

Despite Ellis’s anxiety—about what others think of her, about what she’s doing wrong, about the safety of her loved ones—the two girls become friends. But time is ticking down, and as Ellis tries to help Hannah decipher the details of her doomsday premonition, their search for answers only raises more questions.

When does it happen? Who will believe them? And how do you prepare for the end of the world when it feels like your life is just getting started?

Amanda’s thoughts

I took July off from blogging for TLT so I could focus on some other projects. I read a lot of books too for all ages. Some of them I skimmed. Some of them I abandoned. A few I I burned through in a day or two. But this one I read every single word. I tried to not race through it because I didn’t want it to be done. I liked Henry’s other book, Heretics Anonymous, and think I loved this one even more.

Despite being an atheist, or, who knows, maybe because I’m an atheist, I read a lot of books, both fiction and nonfiction, about religion. I like novels that revolve around belief systems, that interrogate belief, that show me the inside of someone’s community, especially if that someone is grappling with what to believe and why. For Ellis, a Mormon, she’s working through reconciling what she feels/believes/who she is with her faith. She’s also facing some other really big issues, like an anxiety disorder that always makes her expect the worse, a certainty that the apocalypse is coming, and the fact that her new friend seems to be a doomsday prophet. It’s a lot for a 16-year-old to deal with.

Ellis feels like she’s spent her whole life disappointing her family and making everything worse. That’s not just her anxiety talking—that’s her mother. Her mom has NO TIME for Ellis’s anxiety, and, despite sending her to therapy for it, doesn’t seem interested in understanding at all what it means for Ellis. She’s just constantly exasperated by her. Her mother believes she has an attitude problem, not a mental illness. Ellis, who is super into disaster preparedness, thinks if she saves her family at the end of the world, they will appreciate her and finally understand all of her preparations. Her fixation on this grows more intense when she meets Hannah, who tells Ellis they were fated to meet. Hannah has visions of how the world will end, and though she does need help interpreting the visions, she does know that she and Ellis will be together when it happens. Ellis knows they have to warn everyone, but things go awry when she gets in trouble for her choices and may not be able to be with Hannah for the big event.

Ellis spends the duration of the book ruminating on belief, unbelief, love, understanding, prophecy, metaphor, and truth. Things are not always as they appear, and Ellis tries to understand that while also clinging tightly to the things she really needs to believe, no matter how true they are or not. She also begins to hang out with (and is possibly attracted to) Tal, a boy who has left the Mormon faith, and is bisexual. Conversations with and her attraction to him help her sort out of her own attraction to boys and girls (though she’s not ready to label that as anything yet). A really smart, thoughtful look at beliefs, anxiety, and survival. After two such great books from Henry, I will happily read anything else she writes.

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780062698902
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 08/06/2019

Book Review: Stonewall Riots: Coming Out in the Streets by Gayle E Pitman

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal

Gr 6–9—A thorough if somewhat disjointed examination of the events before, during, and in the aftermath of the Stonewall Riots gives young readers an overview of the LGBTQ+ activism of the 1950s and 1960s. Pitman traces meeting places, social clubs, and the rise of organizations and activist groups as well as the many police raids of gay establishments, focusing on the June 28, 1969, raid on the mob-owned Stonewall Inn. Due to a lack of documented accounts, use of pseudonyms, and conflicting reports, controversies remain over the actuality of events at Stonewall. Post-Stonewall, readers learn about the increase in radical groups and visibility that challenged negative attitudes and discrimination. Pitman occasionally expands the narrative focus to examine what was happening in various places around the country and to consider other issues and movements of the time, including weaknesses and missteps in the movement for LGBTQ+ rights. The unique approach of using various objects (matchbooks, leaflets, buttons, arrest records, photographs, and more, with many reproductions too small or low resolution to read) to guide, inform, and reconstruct the story of the riots prevents a smooth narrative flow and makes the text feel repetitive as it moves back and forth in time. Back matter includes a time line, notes, bibliography, and an index. 

VERDICT An important look at a major moment in American history. Readers will come to understand why the iconic Stonewall Inn is now on the National Register of Historic Places, a National Historic Landmark, and a National Monument.

ISBN-13: 9781419737206
Publisher: ABRAMS
Publication date: 05/14/2019

Book Review: Rules for Vanishing

Publisher’s Book Description:
In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister–at all costs.

Once a year, the path appears in the forest and Lucy Gallows beckons. Who is brave enough to find her–and who won’t make it out of the woods?

It’s been exactly one year since Sara’s sister, Becca, disappeared, and high school life has far from settled back to normal. With her sister gone, Sara doesn’t know whether her former friends no longer like her…or are scared of her, and the days of eating alone at lunch have started to blend together. When a mysterious text message invites Sara and her estranged friends to “play the game” and find local ghost legend Lucy Gallows, Sara is sure this is the only way to find Becca–before she’s lost forever. And even though she’s hardly spoken with them for a year, Sara finds herself deep in the darkness of the forest, her friends–and their cameras–following her down the path. Together, they will have to draw on all of their strengths to survive. The road is rarely forgiving, and no one will be the same on the other side. 

Karen’s Thoughts:

You may have seen some of my recent reviews and noticed that I am going through a bit of a YA thriller reading streak. The Rules for Vanishing takes readers on a journey down a ghost road in order to find a missing sister and friend, with mixed results.

I love a good town with creepy legends story. Here we have a ghost, a ghost road and a missing sister who vanished a year ago trying to find said ghost. It’s a fantastic set up. Unfortunately, what happens on the ghost road gets a bit predictable. You see, along the road the group of teens have to pass through several gates and it is clearly established that once they get through each gate, something awful is going to happen. What that awful looks like is different each time, but there is a bit of built in predictability that I feel hampers the tension in the story. There is a rhtymn established: gate, conflict, brief moment of respite to process what just happened, gate, conflict, brief moment of respite . . . As a reader, I wish that this pattern wasn’t so clearly established.

Don’t get me wrong, there are a few twists and turns along the way. But one of the earlier twists unfortunately undermines the final twist a bit because in some ways, it was already done and far more eerily earlier in the novel.

What this book serves up well is a reflection on family, identity and friendship, all of which have been broken in various ways by the vanishing that occurred a year earlier. Here we see teens wrestling with the after effects of not just loss, but loss without any sense of closure because no one is really sure what happened a year ago. It is this part of the story that feels more fleshed out and compelling.

Overall, I feel that this is an optional purchase. Many teens will be interested in reading it and there are some genuinely creepy moments, but it has a predictability about it that may turn some readers off.

Book Review: Road Tripped by Pete Hautman

Publisher’s description

In this captivating story about loss, love, and changing your ways, National Book Award­–winning author Pete Hautman imbues the classic road trip novel with clever wit and heartfelt musings about life and death.

Steven Gerald Gabel—a.k.a. Stiggy—needs to get out of Minnesota. His father recently look his own life, his mother is a shell of the person she used to be, and his sort-of-girlfriend ghosted him and skipped town. What does he have left to stick around for? Armed with his mom’s credit card and a tourist map of Great River Road, Stiggy sets off in his dad’s car.

The only problem is, life on his own isn’t exactly what he expected and, soon enough, he finds himself at a crossroads: keep running from his demons, or let them hitch a ride back home with him.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m a huge fan of Hautman’s work. I’m also a huge fan of character-driven stories where the plot isn’t really grand or intricate. I’ve said it a million times, but just throw some interesting characters together and let them yammer at each other and ruminate on life and I’m good. That’s plenty for me. Because meeting people, interacting, learning, growing, thinking, rethinking, processing… that’s actually a lot of plot. The plot of “how do I do this whole being a person thing and what on earth am I supposed to think or do or say” is huge and one we can all relate to.

I always like a good road trip book. Stiggy sets off on his own, but spends the majority of his trip meeting people who both literally and metaphorically make him change course. He leaves Minnesota because everything is just really crummy and seems to have no point. His father recently died by suicide, his girlfriend totally ghosted him, and he pissed off his only real friend. Sick of everything and the king of negativity and bad attitudes, Stiggy takes off with a vague destination in mind, some cash, his mom’s stolen credit card, and his dad’s iPod full of old music. Along the way he meets colorful characters who force him to think about things he’d rather not address, like: What are you mad about? Do you know who you are? These people make him think about connections, about the nature of friendship, and other philosophical stuff.

Interspersed with the chapters about his road trip are chapters from his past that inform readers about his relationship with Gaia, a quick-to-anger, emotionally confusing Goth girl a year younger than he is. Their relationship is pretty low-key—they hang out a lot, just sort of aimlessly driving and listening to music. They talk, but there’s a lot they don’t know and don’t understand about each other. When Gaia up and decides to move to Wisconsin to live with a friend, Stiggy is totally thrown for a loop. Gaia offers him nothing, then leaves. He hopes to reconnect with her on his road trip, but it’s clear that he has a lot of work to do on himself before he could ever be ready to have any kind of meaningful relationship. That’s clear to us, the readers, but also seems to become clear to Stiggy as his trip goes on.

Stiggy undertakes his road trip partially because he doesn’t want to think about a lot of things. But, of course, his road trip becomes all about thinking about stuff, no matter how hard he avoids it. What else is there to do while driving through the Midwest but think? Readers who like reluctantly introspective characters who are ultimately good dudes just making lots of mistakes (otherwise known as “growing up”) will be rooting for Stiggy to find a way to ditch his nihilistic attitude and avoid the path in life his father took. And while he learns and grows and changes, he does so in ways that may not even be obvious to him (but are to readers). He doesn’t have particularly profound revelations or come back to Minnesota a new man. But, forced to confront the junk he’d been swerving away from, he now has the potential to change and maybe even the impetus. Hand this to readers who like stories with strong (and sometimes not necessarily super likable) characters.

(The content warning for this book: Stiggy’s father dies by suicide. It is mentioned multiple times, including multiple references to how he died. Readers may want to skip a chapter entitled “Groundhog Day,” which includes a graphic description of his death. )

Review copy courtesy of the author

ISBN-13: 9781534405905
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 05/14/2019

Book Review: Hot Dog Girl by Jennifer Dugan

Publisher’s description

hot dog girlA fresh and funny contemporary YA rom-com about teens working as costumed characters in a local amusement part.

Elouise (Lou) Parker is determined to have the absolute best, most impossibly epic summer of her life. There are just a few things standing in her way:

* She’s landed a job at Magic Castle Playland . . . as a giant dancing hot dog.
* Her crush, the dreamy Diving Pirate Nick, already has a girlfriend, who is literally the Princess of the park. But Lou’s never liked anyone, guy or otherwise, this much before, and now she wants a chance at her own happily ever after.
* Her best friend, Seeley, the carousel operator, who’s always been up for anything, suddenly isn’t when it comes to Lou’s quest to set her up with the perfect girl or Lou’s scheme to get close to Nick.
* And it turns out that this will be their last summer at Magic Castle Playland—ever—unless she can find a way to stop it from closing.

Jennifer Dugan’s sparkling debut coming-of-age queer romance stars a princess, a pirate, a hot dog, and a carousel operator who find love—and themselves—in unexpected people and unforgettable places.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

I read for and write posts many, many weeks before they publish. I’m a Type A human who is always expecting catastrophes (thanks, anxiety!), so getting things done as early as possible is my method of operation. Right now it’s early March. I’ve had a sinus infection for three months, we’re getting yet another foot of snow here in Minnesota, and I am so cranky and sunlight-deprived that almost nothing seems fun. But you know what was fun? Reading this book in one day. So fun. This book is cute and fun and set in SUMMER, a time I seem to vaguely remember and hold out a small bit of hope that it will ever appear again in Minnesota.

 

Like romances? Like queer romances? Like books set in a workplace? Like frustrating characters who sometimes make cruddy choices? This book’s for you!

 

Elouise (Elle to some, Lou to others) is always scheming. She’s pretty sure that people are wrong—the summer after senior year isn’t the one that’s supposed to be the most epic ever (there’s too much stress that comes with the transition time). It’s the summer BEFORE senior year that should rule. As such, she is determined that this summer will be amazing. Even if she is once again employed as a giant hot dog at her beloved theme park. Even if she has to watch Nick, her crush, with his girlfriend every day. Even if her beloved theme park is going to close after this summer. Even if she ropes her best friend, Seeley, into a ridiculous scheme that could maybe ruin everything. Yep. Most epic summer ever!

 

Or maybe it could have been, if Lou could just live her life without constantly coming up with schemes. Her worst one, currently? Pretend that she and Seeley are dating (Lou is bisexual and Seeley is a lesbian). In Lou’s mind, this will let her somehow get closer to Nick, her crush. How? Well, they could all go on double dates! And Nick seems a little jealous, or something, when he misinterprets something he overhears and thinks Lou and Seeley are dating. So, sure, solid plan (she typed sarcastically): pretend to date someone else and your crush will fall for you and you’ll end up together!

 

It’s not a great plan. It’s not even a good one. In fact, it’s pretty terrible. It’s made worse by the fact that poor Seeley is kind of forced into this farce and it’s clear she hates it. It’s clear to the reader that Lou is being oblivious and self-centered when she makes this plan. Their fake relationship gets in the way of their real one, with the scheme making everything confusing and complicated, as well as revealing some truths. The publisher’s summary bills this as a queer romance, so you can probably guess what the complication is and where the story goes. But even if it’s obvious where the plot is going, it’s still great fun (if somewhat frustrating at times) watching it all unfold. The unique setting, workplace drama, and changing relationships all make for a cute story that will be the perfect summer read. 

 

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525516255
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 04/30/2019

Book Review: Love and Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford

When I’m reviewing books for professional publications, I stay quiet about them on social media. I’m always really excited once a review comes out to be able to talk about the book, finally! Here’s one of my most recent reviews, which originally appeared in an issue of School Library Journal

love and otherLove & Other Curses by Michael Thomas Ford (ISBN-13: 9780062791207 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/09/2019)

Gr 9 Up—Sam Weyward, a gay teen in rural New York, knows that if he falls in love before his fast-approaching 17th birthday, the generations-long family curse will kill his love interest. Living with his magic-practicing grandma, great-grandma, and great-great-grandma (the Grands) and his 1980s metal–loving father, he can never forget about the curse. But he finds distraction with drag queens at the gay bar Shangri-La, the family ice cream stand, mysterious phone calls, and Tom Swift, a trans boy staying at the lake this summer. As his friendship with Tom, who is straight, grows more complicated, Sam wonders if the curse can be broken. While there is a lot to enjoy about this book, like the vivid setting and appealing premise, the unhealthy relationship between Sam and Tom, and the often-unchecked transphobia make this a troubling, offensive, and potentially harmful story. Tom is repeatedly deadnamed, misgendered, and outed (with Sam, among others, committing these offenses). The fixation on Tom’s body and transition feel voyeuristic and turn him into a one-dimensional character just used for Sam’s own development. Sam and the rest of the cast get to be vibrant and complex, with Sam supported and loved both by his biological family and his chosen family of drag queens who are helping him find his drag identity. Tom is miserable, angry, rejected, lacking support, and ultimately forced to present as female—a painful trajectory without much hope. VERDICT Though this novel is funny and highly readable, the tragic trans narrative makes it one to skip.