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Maybe He Just Likes You: #MeToo Comes to Middle Grade, a guest post by Barbara Dee

MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU begins with a hug. It’s the seventh grade recess, and as Mila celebrates her friend’s birthday, suddenly the  “basketball boys” are surrounding them, locking arms, singing “Happy Birthday” way too loudly.

Friendly, right? Sweet but extremely awkward– basically what you’d expect from middle school boys.

Except the hug continues a few seconds past the ending of the song. And Mila feels squeezed, like she can’t breathe.

Afterwards, there’s more unwanted contact–all targeting Mila, all of it happening when adults aren’t around. Bumping, grabbing, sitting too close. Then comments about her body. Jokes that aren’t really jokes at all. Finally a “scorecard” that turns contact with Mila into a team sport.

 

As the boys’ behavior escalates, Mila feels humiliated and confused. When she tells the boys to stop, they just laugh and continue. She doesn’t know how to ask for help; she doesn’t even know how to talk about it.  Because what is this behavior, exactly? It’s not just teasing (as a male guidance counselor, lacking all the details, suggests ). It’s not just bullying, at least not like the kind Mila witnessed in elementary school. And she rejects her friend Zara’s argument that one boy is “flirting” because he “just likes her.” To Mila the behavior feels aggressive, even threatening. And shouldn’t flirting feel better than that? On both sides?  

In her gut, Mila knows she’s encountering something new. But she doesn’t have a way to conceptualize what’s happening to her. She doesn’t know words like micro-aggression or sexual harassment. Or, for that matter, consent and boundaries.   

And how would she? Those words are rarely included in the middle school curriculum–and I think it’s time for that to change. Because even if middle schoolers are squeamish and uncomfortable, even if in some ways they seem too “immature” for these topics, we can’t postpone talking about concepts like consent and boundaries until high school (or even college). As many recent studies prove, middle school is where sexual harassment begins. So if we’re going to stop the behavior,  we need to address it at inception.

The difficult part is how. I’m not going to lie–writing MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU was one of my biggest challenges as a middle grade author. I’ve explored some sensitive topics before.  Eating disorders in EVERYTHING I KNOW ABOUT YOU. Pediatric cancer in HALFWAY NORMAL.  A girl’s crush on another girl in STAR-CROSSED. In all of those books, I felt I could treat the topic directly, as long as I wove in other plot threads and plenty of humor.

But the topic of sexual harassment is different, because for many gatekeepers, acknowledging the sexuality of middle schoolers is taboo. So I had to strike a very delicate balance with this book: I had to keep the harassment PG-rated, but at the same time do justice to Mila’s sense of violation.  I had to make it clear that this was a particular kind of aggressive behavior that homed in on her growing sense of selfhood.  And because Mila was a seventh grader struggling with the self-consciousness and confusion of puberty,  it affected her in a way she couldn’t articulate–not to friends, teachers, or even her mom.

Also, it affected others.  One thing I learned from interviewing a middle school guidance counselor for this book was that when sexual harassment happens in middle school, it violates not  just the student being targeted, but the whole school community.  In MAYBE, some of Mila’s harassment occurs in isolation, under the radar of both adults and other kids. But enough of the behavior is witnessed– confusing, embarrassing and threatening not just Mila, but also her friends and classmates.

If I were writing a YA, the harassment might reach a crescendo, some act that was clearly criminal. (I’m thinking about Deb Caletti’s beautiful, brilliant A HEART IN A BODY IN THE WORLD.) But the whole point of MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU is that this behavior does, in fact, occur in the safe, wholesome world of MG–and so for the purposes of this story, it needed to be resolved in a MG-appropriate way.  Without spoiling too much of the ending,  I’ll just say that Mila makes mistakes, but learns to stand up for herself, partly by studying karate. She discovers several surprising allies, both adults and kids. There’s a scene of restorative justice in which the boys come to understand Mila’s perspective.  And the teachers take responsibility, initiating a schoolwide program about Consent, Boundaries and Sexual Harassment.

I never want to write one-note books, so like my other middle grade novels, MAYBE is also about family, and the constantly-shifting dynamics of middle school friendship. I hope it’s entertaining, even funny at times. I’ll confess that Mila’s bratty little sister made me laugh.

But the subject– sexual harassment in middle school–is one we need to take seriously. I’m hoping MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU starts that conversation.  

Meet Barbara Dee

Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

https://BarbaraDeeBooks.com
@BarbaraDee2
IG: barbaradeebooks

About MAYBE HE JUST LIKES YOU

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 some boys giving her an unwanted hug on the school blacktop. A few days later, at recess, one of the boys (and fellow trumpet player) Callum tells Mila it’s his birthday, and asks her for a “birthday hug.” He’s just being friendly, isn’t he? And how can she say no? But Callum’s hug lasts a few seconds too long, and feels…weird. According to her friend, Zara, Mila is being immature and overreacting. Doesn’t she know what flirting looks like?

But the boys don’t leave Mila alone. On the bus. In the halls. During band practice—the one place Mila could always escape.

It doesn’t feel like flirting—so what is it? Thanks to a chance meeting, Mila begins to find solace in a new place: karate class. Slowly, with the help of a fellow classmate, Mila learns how to stand her ground and how to respect others—and herself.

From the author of Everything I Know About YouHalfway Normal, and Star-Crossed comes this timely story of a middle school girl standing up and finding her voice.

ISBN-13: 9781534432376
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/01/2019

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)

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)

Post-It Note Reviews: Books for younger readers featuring a psychic, an alien cat, scientists, a girl with ADHD, a homeschooled girl, and campers

IMG_3631Now that I work in an elementary library, I’m reading a lot more titles for younger readers. It’s been super interesting to me to see what the students (grades K-5) check out. I’ve spent so long completely in the world of YA and am glad for an opportunity to work with younger readers and to read all of the great picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books I’ve missed out on!

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.

 

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Far Away by Lisa Graff

A book about life, loss, and the secrets families keep, reminiscent of Sharon Creech’s Walk Two Moons, by National Book Award nominee Lisa Graff.

CJ’s Aunt Nic is a psychic medium who tours the country speaking to spirits from Far Away, passing on messages from the dearly departed. And CJ knows firsthand how comforting those messages can be — Aunt Nic’s Gift is the only way CJ can talk to her mom, who died just hours after she was born.

So when CJ learns that she won’t be able to speak to her mother anymore, even with Aunt Nic’s help, she’s determined to find a work-around. She sets off on road trip with her new friend Jax to locate the one object that she believes will tether her mother’s spirit back to Earth . . . but what she finds along the way challenges every truth she’s ever known. Ultimately, CJ has to sort out the reality from the lies.

National Book Award nominee Lisa Graff has written a poignant, heartfelt novel that explores the lengths we go to protect those we love — and the power secrets have to change our worlds.

(POST-IT SAYS: The unique premise of a medium connecting with spirits/the dead will catch readers’ attention. Full of adventure, mystery, questions, and twists, this is a moving story of family and truth. Ages 9-12)

 

 

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Klawde (Evil Alien Warlord Cat Series #1) and Enemies (Evil Alien Warlord Cat Series #2) by Johnny Marciano, Emily Chenoweth, Robb Mommaerts (Illustrator)

 

#1: Klawde is not your average cat. He’s an emperor from another planet, exiled to Earth. He’s cruel. He’s cunning. He’s brilliant… and he’s about to become Raj Banerjee’s best friend. Whether he likes it or not.

Klawde had everything. Sharp claws. Fine fur. And, being the High Commander of the planet Lyttyrboks, an entire world of warlike cats at his command. But when he is stripped of his feline throne, he is sentenced to the worst possible punishment: exile to a small planet in a quiet corner of the universe… named Earth.

Raj had everything. A cool apartment in Brooklyn. Three friends who lived in his building. And pizza and comics within walking distance. But when his mom gets a job in Elba, Oregon, and he is forced to move, all of that changes. It’s now the beginning of summer, he has no friends, and because of his mother’s urgings, he has joined a nature camp.

It’s only when his doorbell rings and he meets a furball of a cat that Raj begins to think maybe his luck is turning around…

Heavily illustrated, with a hilarious, biting voice that switches between Raj and Klawde’s perspectives, this is the story of an unlikely friendship that emerges as two fish out of water begin to find their footing in strange new worlds.

 

#2: Klawde is not your basic cat. He’s an emperor from another planet, exiled to Earth. He’s cruel. He’s cunning. He’s brilliant… and he’s also Raj Banerjee’s best friend.

Klawde and Raj are back! As summer turns to fall, our favorite warlord cat remains in his pitiful exiled existence. But Raj has an even scarier prospect than cosmic exile: starting at a new school.And if things didn’t seem complicated enough, both cat and human are confronted with two figures from their past they did not expect to pop up in Elba, Oregon…Heavily illustrated, with a hilarious, biting voice that switches between Raj’s and Klawde’s perspectives, this is the story of an unlikely friendship that emerges as two fish out of water continue to find their footing in strange new worlds.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Super enjoyable new series. We hear the story from the perspective of both Raj and Klawde. The illustrations add a lot to the story. Fun, silly, and hilarious with wide appeal. Ages 8-11)

 

 

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Parker Bell and the Science of Friendship by Cynthia Platt, Rea Zhai (Illustrator)
(May 21, 2019)

 

In this fun young-middle-grade novel with STEM appeal, Parker really wants to win the school Science Triathlon—but first she’ll have to figure out how to keep her BFF from being stolen. Budding scientist Parker Bell really wants to win the school Science Triathlon and follow in the footsteps of her idols, chimpanzee expert Jane Goodall and astronaut Mae Jemison. She’s sure that if she teams up with her trivia whiz BFF, Cassie, they will dominate the Science Bee, Egg Drop, and Animal Adaptation Presentation. When Cassie invites her new friend, Theo, to join their team, Parker is worried—that Theo won’t help them win and might steal her best friend. As the three work together, Parker learns that you don’t have to be the best to be a real scientist and a good friend.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Science-minded readers will especially enjoy this story of friendship and competition. Good STEM focus, lots of humor, and emphasis on teamwork. Ages 7-10)

 

 

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Focused by Alyson Gerber

 

Clea can’t control her thoughts. She knows she has to do her homework . . . but she gets distracted. She knows she can’t just say whatever thought comes into her head . . . but sometimes she can’t help herself. She know she needs to focus . . . but how can she do that when the people around her are always chewing gum loudly or making other annoying noises?It’s starting to be a problem–not just in school, but when Clea’s playing chess or just hanging out with her best friend. Other kids are starting to notice. When Clea fails one too many tests, her parents take her to be tested, and she finds out that she has ADHD, which means her attention is all over the place instead of where it needs to be. Clea knows life can’t continue the way it’s been going. She’s just not sure how you can fix a problem that’s all in your head. But that’s what she’s going to have to do, to find a way to focus.In a starred review, Booklist called Alyson Gerber’s first novel, Braced, “a masterfully constructed and highly empathetic debut about a different kind of acceptance.” With Focused, she explores even further how, when life gives you a challenge, the best way to face it is with an open mind, an open heart, and the open support of the people around you.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: A welcome addition to the small field of books about characters with ADHD. A deep and compassionate look at not just ADHD but other common middle school issues. I’ll be handing this well done book to my own 7th grader with ADHD. Ages 10-13)

 

 

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Because of the Rabbit by Cynthia Lord

 

Newbery Honor-winning author Cynthia Lord has written a sensitive and accessible book about the challenges of fitting in when you know you’re a little different.On the last night of summer, Emma tags along with her game warden father on a routine call. They’re supposed to rescue a wild rabbit from a picket fence, but instead they find a little bunny. Emma convinces her father to bring him home for the night.The next day, Emma starts public school for the very first time after years of being homeschooled. More than anything, Emma wants to make a best friend in school.But things don’t go as planned. On the first day of school, she’s paired with a boy named Jack for a project. He can’t stay on topic, he speaks out of turn, and he’s obsessed with animals. Jack doesn’t fit in, and Emma’s worried he’ll make her stand out.

Emma and Jack bond over her rescue rabbit. But will their new friendship keep Emma from finding the new best friend she’s meant to have?

Newbery Honor-winning author Cynthia Lord has written a beautiful and sensitive book about being different and staying true to yourself.

(POST-IT SAYS: A tender examination of fitting in, making friends, embracing differences, and being yourself. Any story based around an animal flies off the shelves at my school. An easy book to recommend widely.)

 

 

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Camp by Kayla Miller
(April 23, 2019)

 

Raina Telgemeier and Frazzled fans, rejoice! Author-illustrator Kayla Miller is back with Olive in this emotional and honest story about navigating new experiences, learning to step outside one’s comfort zone, and the satisfaction of blazing your own trails.Olive and Willow are happy campers!
Or are they?Olive is sure she’ll have the best time at summer camp with her friend Willow – but while Olive makes quick friends with the other campers, Willow struggles to form connections and latches on to the only person she knows – Olive. It’s s’more than Olive can handle! The stress of being Willow’s living security blanket begins to wear on Olive and before long…the girls aren’t just fighting, they may not even be friends by the time camp is over. Will the two be able to patch things up before the final lights out?

Look for more of Olive’s adventures in Click!

 

(POST-IT SAYS: Public, elementary, and middle school libraries NEED this book, as well as Miller’s first bookl, Click. Point fans of Telgemeier to these visually appealing looks at friendship. SO GOOD. More, please! Ages 8-12)

Post-It Note Reviews: Books for younger readers featuring a biracial protagonist, homeless kids in India, babysitters, and more

IMG_3631Now that I work in an elementary library, I’m reading a lot more titles for younger readers. It’s been super interesting to me to see what the students (grades K-5) check out. I’ve spent so long completely in the world of YA and am glad for an opportunity to work with younger readers and to read all of the great picture books, chapter books, and middle grade books I’ve missed out on!

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.

 

 

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The Unsung Hero of Birdsong, USA by Brenda Woods

 

The Coretta Scott King Honor-winning author tells the moving story of the friendship between a young white boy and a Black WWII veteran who has recently returned to the unwelcoming Jim Crow South.

On Gabriel’s twelfth birthday, he gets a new bike–and is so excited that he accidentally rides it right into the path of a car. Fortunately, a Black man named Meriwether pushes him out of the way just in time, and fixes his damaged bike. As a thank you, Gabriel gets him a job at his dad’s auto shop. Gabriel’s dad hires him with some hesitation, however, anticipating trouble with the other mechanic, who makes no secret of his racist opinions.
Gabriel and Meriwether become friends, and Gabriel learns that Meriwether drove a tank in the Army’s all-Black 761st Tank Battalion in WWII. Meriwether is proud of his service, but has to keep it a secret because talking about it could be dangerous. Sadly, danger finds Meriwether, anyway, when his family receives a frightening threat. The South being the way it is, there’s no guarantee that the police will help–and Gabriel doesn’t know what will happen if Meriwether feels forced to take the law into his own hands.

(POST-IT SAYS: 12-year-old Gabriel’s eyes are opened to the racism in the South in 1946. Unique look at what it means to be black and a WWII vet. Gabriel’s voice is engaging, the setting is vibrant, and Woods’ storytelling is, as always, strong and affecting. Ages 9-12)

 

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Blended by Sharon M. Draper

 

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s blended family is more divided than ever in this thoughtful story about divorce and racial identity from the award-winning and New York Times bestselling author of Out of My Mind, Sharon M. Draper.

Eleven-year-old Isabella’s parents are divorced, so she has to switch lives every week: One week she’s Isabella with her dad, his girlfriend Anastasia, and her son Darren living in a fancy house where they are one of the only black families in the neighborhood. The next week she’s Izzy with her mom and her boyfriend John-Mark in a small, not-so-fancy house that she loves.

Because of this, Isabella has always felt pulled between two worlds. And now that her parents are divorced, it seems their fights are even worse, and they’re always about HER. Isabella feels even more stuck in the middle, split and divided between them than ever. And she’s is beginning to realize that being split between Mom and Dad is more than switching houses, switching nicknames, switching backpacks: it’s also about switching identities. Her dad is black, her mom is white, and strangers are always commenting: “You’re so exotic!” “You look so unusual.” “But what are you really?” She knows what they’re really saying: “You don’t look like your parents.” “You’re different.” “What race are you really?” And when her parents, who both get engaged at the same time, get in their biggest fight ever, Isabella doesn’t just feel divided, she feels ripped in two. What does it mean to be half white or half black? To belong to half mom and half dad? And if you’re only seen as half of this and half of that, how can you ever feel whole?

It seems like nothing can bring Isabella’s family together again—until the worst happens. Isabella and Darren are stopped by the police. A cell phone is mistaken for a gun. And shots are fired.

 

(POST-IT SAYS: There’s a lot packed into this look at straddling multiple worlds and identities. An emotional look at being biracial (and all that goes with it) as well as at divorce and blended families. Ages 9-12)

 

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Monstrous Devices by Damien Love

 

On a winter’s day in a British town, twelve-year old Alex receives a package in the mail: an old tin robot from his grandfather. “This one is special,” says the enclosed note, and when strange events start occurring around him, Alex suspects this small toy is more than special; it might be deadly.

Right as things get out of hand, Alex’s grandfather arrives, pulling him away from an attack—and his otherwise humdrum world of friends, bullies, and homework—and into the macabre magic of an ancient family feud. Together, the duo flees across snowy Europe, unraveling the riddle of the little robot while trying to outwit relentless assassins of the human and mechanical kind.

With an ever-present admiration for the hidden mysteries of our world, Monstrous Devices plunges readers into a gripping adventure that’s sure to surprise.

(POST-IT SAYS: Dark, creepy, weird, and full of twists! Fans of strange mysteries who don’t mind unresolved questions will like this adventure. Chases, fights, and lots of intrigue. Ages 10-14)

 

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The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman

 

Four determined homeless children make a life for themselves in Padma Venkatraman’s stirring middle-grade debut.

Life is harsh in Chennai’s teeming streets, so when runaway sisters Viji and Rukku arrive, their prospects look grim. Very quickly, eleven-year-old Viji discovers how vulnerable they are in this uncaring, dangerous world. Fortunately, the girls find shelter—and friendship—on an abandoned bridge. With two homeless boys, Muthi and Arul, the group forms a family of sorts. And while making a living scavenging the city’s trash heaps is the pits, the kids find plenty to laugh about and take pride in too. After all, they are now the bosses of themselves and no longer dependent on untrustworthy adults. But when illness strikes, Viji must decide whether to risk seeking help from strangers or to keep holding on to their fragile, hard-fought freedom.

(POST-IT SAYS: A powerful and heartbreaking look at poverty, love, and grief. The sisters escape abuse but face very bleak situations on the street/on the run. Ultimately hopeful but very sad. Ages 10-14)

 

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Best Babysitters Ever by Caroline Cala

 

A funny new middle grade series about three 12-year-old best friends who start a babysitting club in their small California town. Perfect for fans of series like Whatever After and the Dork Diaries.

Once upon a time, a girl named Kristy Thomas had a great idea: to form The Baby-Sitters Club with her best friends. And now twelve-year-old Malia Twiggs has had a great idea too. Technically, she had Kristy’s idea(And technically, little kids seem gross and annoying, but a paycheck is a paycheck). After a little convincing, Malia and her friends Dot and Bree start a babysitting club to earn funds for an epic birthday bash. But babysitting definitely isn’t what they thought it would be.

Three friends. No parents. Unlimited snacks. And, okay, occasionally watching other people’s children. What could possibly go wrong?

(POST-IT SAYS: A modern Baby-Sitters Club! If the BSC girls were snarkier, less skilled, and more diverse, that is. A fun and entertaining start to a series with very wide appeal. Ages 10-12)

Book Review: The Whispers by Greg Howard

Publisher’s description

whispersA middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

11-year-old Riley’s mother always told him a story about wish-granting Whispers that live in the woods behind their South Carolina home. Just leave them a tribute, tell them your heart’s desire, and the Whispers, who know all the secrets in the universe, will take care of you. When Riley’s mother disappears, he desperately hopes this story isn’t just fiction.

 

Riley’s mom has been missing for four months when we meet Riley. He’s repeatedly interrogated by a detective but can’t come up with any other details to help them find her—Riley was at home playing, his mother was napping, there was a mysterious car nearby, then she was gone. They keep going over the details, and Riley has no hope that the detective, who he thinks is incompetent, will ever find his mom. It’s up to him. It’s up to the Whispers in the woods behind his house. They must know where his mom is.

 

Riley, a self-professed mama’s boy, has been miserable since she disappeared. He’s started wetting the bed (which he refers to as “my condition”), his father hardly acknowledges him, and the bullying and teasing he’s always faced at school has gotten worse. He has one good friend, biracial Gary, and a protector in an older neighbor, Dylan, but beyond that, is alone. He’s carrying the heavy weight of guilt, worried that he somehow drove his mother away with his “other condition,” which is how he refers to the fact that he likes boys. He thinks that he’s being punished for this.

 

Deciding to take things into his own hands, Riley heads into the woods with Gary and Gary’s younger brother to camp, hoping to maybe hear more from the Whispers, who have been speaking to him lately. They tell him that “she’s here.” Believing them, believing that she’s in those woods, Riley heads deeper into the forest. He offers the ultimate tribute to the Whispers, but will it be enough for them to reveal where she is?

 

Readers will tear through this story, with many questions along the way. Is Riley hiding something from the detective? Or from the reader? What’s really going on with his neighbor, Dylan? Who is Kenny from Kentucky? What happened in the shed? Does the unlikely helper he encounters in the woods know something about his mother? Everything is eventually revealed and answered, and what readers learn will likely send them scrambling back to reread the story through new eyes. A moving, thoughtful examination of trauma, grief, and the power of imagination. 

 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780525517498
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/15/2019

WRITING YOUR OWN STORY (SORT OF), a guest post by Greg Howard

whispersLet me start by clearly stating that THE WHISPERS is first and foremost, a work of fiction. I’m reluctant to even call it semi-autobiographical. With that said, there’s no doubt that I left a lot of me on the page. Sort of.

 

When I first had the idea for this story, I thought a lot about my childhood—colorful family members, small towns in South Carolina where I grew up, the woods I explored with my buddies, those early school friends and bullies who leave a lifelong, indelible mark one’s psyche and memory. But I kept circling back a central missing puzzle piece of my youth—my mother.

 

 

My mother was a conspicuous and fundamental figure in my childhood even though she was absent for most of it. Why she wasn’t around isn’t as important as the fact that she was there in a monumental way in the beginning—when your attachments and developmental influences take root and form who you are as a person. She was a local beauty queen beloved by everyone, a steadfast pillar of the church community, a faithful wife and nurturing mother revered by other wives and mothers for her beauty inside and out. She was practically an angelic presence temporarily on loan from God to the good citizens of Georgetown, South Carolina. Or at least that’s how I remember it.

Greg's mother

Greg’s mother

 

As I grew older and wiser (sort of), the more I realized that my memories of my mother were a mix of the authentic and the imagined—some created from faded Polaroids, others from family lore, but only a scattering from actual events and real-life moments. That’s why I consider the mother in THE WHISPERS to be a tribute to my mother, but also a fully fictionalized character.

A young Greg and his sister

A young Greg and his sister

To my main character, Riley, his mother is virtually his entire world and when she goes missing, he’s not only completely lost without her, but obsessive about finding her and bringing her home. The world as Riley knows it simply doesn’t work without her. His dad grows isolated and distant, his brother retreats from the family, his grandparents are despondent, and as a mama’s boy who finds himself suddenly without a mama, Riley feels as alone and acutely isolated as I did at his age.

 

Growing up a self-aware queer kid the rural deep South only added to my seclusion. It was time when you didn’t talk about such things, neither at home or at school, and certainly not at church. Preachers told me I was going to hell without even realizing (I hope) the oppressive guilt and shame they were imposing on an already sensitive, fragile kid. Authority figures seemed to know without question or a second thought that I was not normal. I never found myself in television, movies, or books, but only ever saw a romantic construct of love represented between a man and a woman. Even at that young age, I felt erased from society and reality. Compound that with the absence of my mother and you have one deeply confused, broken and lonely little boy.

 

That was my story, but through writing THE WHISPERS, it became Riley’s.

 

Sprinkling the seasoning of my life into THE WHISPERS was deeply satisfying, incredibly cathartic, and at times particularly painful. From Grandma’s fruit salad recipe, to the Pentecostal corn choir, to missing family photo albums and boyhood crushes, to camping trips in the woods, childhood trauma, a country market, nightmares so vivid I remember them to this day, and even to the greatest dog in the history of dogs, Tucker—I lent it all to Riley. And it was interesting to see with those same story ingredients borrowed from my life, how drastically his path diverged from my own.

 

I used to think of THE WHISPERS as my own story. But the longer I’m away from it, the more I consider it Riley’s story. Those are now his adventures, hopes, pains, dreams, struggles and triumphs. But I’m delighted that my real-life memories served Riley well and found a safe and evergreen place to land. Riley’s was a more fantastical journey than mine, but imagination was important to us both. Imagination was the vehicle of our escape to an alternate world. One full of hope. And in that small yet significant way, Riley and I share this story.

 

When writing fiction, I don’t believe you can truly write your own story. At some point the characters hijack it and make it their own, and that’s okay. So, now I can say with definitive clarity that THE WHISPERS is my own story. Sort of.

 

Meet Greg Howard

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Greg Howard grew up near the coast of South Carolina. His hometown of Georgetown is known as the “Ghost Capital of the South” (seriously…there’s a sign), and was always a great source of material for his overactive imagination. Raised in a staunchly religious home, Greg escaped into the arts: singing, playing piano, acting, writing songs, and making up stories. Currently, Greg resides in Nashville, Tennessee, with his husband, Steve, and their three rescued fur babies Molly, Toby, and Riley.

 

 

 

 Connect with Greg online:

Twitter: @greghowardbooks

Instagram: @greghowardbooks

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/greghowardbooks/

 

About THE WHISPERS

whispersA middle grade debut that’s a heartrending coming-of-age tale, perfect for fans of Bridge to Terabithia and Counting By 7s.

Eleven-year-old Riley believes in the whispers, magical fairies that will grant you wishes if you leave them tributes. Riley has a lot of wishes. He wishes bullies at school would stop picking on him. He wishes Dylan, his 8th grade crush, liked him, and Riley wishes he would stop wetting the bed. But most of all, Riley wishes for his mom to come back home. She disappeared a few months ago, and Riley is determined to crack the case. He even meets with a detective, Frank, to go over his witness statement time and time again.

Frustrated with the lack of progress in the investigation, Riley decides to take matters into his own hands. So he goes on a camping trip with his friend Gary to find the whispers and ask them to bring his mom back home. But Riley doesn’t realize the trip will shake the foundation of everything that he believes in forever.

(ISBN-13: 9780525517498 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/15/2019)

CHECK BACK ON 1/15/2019 FOR AMANDA’S REVIEW OF THE WHISPERS

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Spring 2019 Showcase

IMG_7754Beyond the people I work with and the people this blog has led me to get to know, by far the best aspect of blogging for TLT is the constant influx of 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, 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.

 

Today I’m sharing with you titles from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All annotations are from the publisher.

 

 

every momentEvery Moment After by Joseph Moldover (ISBN-13: 9781328547279 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 04/09/2019)

 

Best friends Matt and Cole grapple with their changing relationships during the summer after high school in this impactful, evocative story about growing up and moving on from a traumatic past.

Surviving was just the beginning. 

Eleven years after a shooting rocked the small town of East Ridge, New Jersey and left eighteen first graders in their classroom dead, survivors and recent high school graduates Matt Simpson and Cole Hewitt are still navigating their guilt and trying to move beyond the shadow of their town’s grief. Will Cole and Matt ever be able to truly leave the ghosts of East Ridge behind? Do they even want to?

As they grapple with changing relationships, falling in love, and growing apart, these two friends must face the question of how to move on—and truly begin living

 

RBGDissenter on the Bench: Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Life and Work by Victoria Ortiz (ISBN-13: 9780544973640 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 06/04/2019)

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.

 

 

 

briar and roseBriar and Rose and Jack by Katherine Coville (ISBN-13: 9781328950055 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 06/11/2019)

 

Sumptuous storytelling combines Sleeping Beauty with Jack and the Beanstalk in a magical exploration of prejudice, justice, and the meaning of true love.

Lady Briar is scorned for her appearance. Princess Rose is adored for her looks. Unbeknownst to them, one or both may bear a curse that only true love can break. But the girls have little time for curses anyway—along with their friend Jack, they are busy plotting the downfall of the evil giant who plagues their kingdom. But how can children succeed when the adults are afraid to even try? And what if the curse manifests? Whose love could be true enough to save the day?

 

 

moles

Moles by Rachel Poliquin, Nicholas John Frith (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780544951075 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 06/18/2019)

Funny and fact-filled, MOLES is another installment in the SUPERPOWER FIELD GUIDES series by author Rachel Poliquin, featuring full-color illustrations by Nicholas John Frith that will engage readers with witty narration and fun visual elements, inspiring readers to dig deep and see the world, both above and below ground, with new eyes. 

Meet Rosalie, a common mole.The first thing you need to know about Rosalie is that she is shaped like a potato. Not a new potato, all cute and round, but a plain old lumpy potato. She may be small. She may be spongy. But never underestimate a mole.

I know what you’re thinking: moles are just squinty-eyed beasts that wreck your lawn.

You’re right! Those squinty eyes and mounds of dirt are proof that moles have superpowers. There is absolutely nothing common about the common mole.

 

impossibleImpossible Music by Sean Williams (ISBN-13:9780544816206 Publisher: Clarion Publication date: 07/02/2019)

In an emotionally compelling tale crackling with originality, when a teen musician goes deaf, his quest to create an entirely new form of music brings him to a deeper understanding of his relationship to the hearing world, of himself, and of the girl he meets along the way. 

Music is Simon’s life—which is why he is devastated when a stroke destroys his hearing. He resists attempts to help him adjust to his new state, refusing to be counseled, refusing to learn sign-language, refusing to have anything to do with Deaf culture. Refusing, that is, until he meets G, a tough-as-nails girl dealing with her own newly-experienced deafness.

In an emotionally engaging tale crackling with originality, Simon’s quest to create an entirely new form of music forces him into a deeper understanding of his relationship to the hearing world, of himself, and of the girl he meets along the way.

 

 

from an ideaFrom an Idea to Google: How Innovation at Google Changed the World by Lowey Bundy Sichol (ISBN-13:9781328954916 Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers Publication date: 07/09/2019)

From an Idea to Google is a behind-the-computer-screen look into the history, business, and brand of the world’s largest search engine. With humorous black & white illustrations throughout, learn about the company that even earned its own catchphrase: Google it!

Today, Google is the number one internet search engine and the most visited website in the world. But a long time ago, two college friends, Larry Page and Sergey Brin, started out with just an idea. Find out more about Google’s history, the business, and the brand in this illustrated nonfiction book!

Find out where the name “Google” came from. (Hint: It involves a LOT of zeros!)

Discover how Google became the fastest and most popular internet search engine of all time.

Explore how Google transformed from a tiny startup (in someone’s garage!) into one of the most powerful companies in the world.

 

survivor girlSurvivor Girl by Erin Teagan (ISBN-13:9780544636217 Publisher: Clarion Publication date: 07/16/2019)

In this funny, action-packed middle grade novel from the author of the American Girl Luciana books, Alison gets invited to be on her dad’s reality show, Survivor Guy, and faces important realities about her family, self-reliance, and learning to work together with friends. 

12-year-old Ali adores her reality-show celebrity father, Survivor Guy, and hopes to follow in his footsteps. But when he invites her on location, Ali is sure she won’t survive one episode . . . until she learns the truth: The show isn’t just her dad and a camera. It’s a huge crew and set, with stunt doubles! When a wildfire strikes and Ali and two other kids miss the last rescue helicopter, suddenly, the fight for survival is real. Will she find the self-confidence she needs so they can work together and get out of the wilderness alive?

STEM themes and plot strands about body image and divorce are subtly woven into this page-turning tale.

 

 

mystery clubMystery Club: Wild Werewolves; Mummy Mischief by Davide Cali, Yannick Robert (ISBN-13:9781328528483 Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers Publication date: 07/23/2019)

Two graphic novel mysteries in one book, each filled with fun humor and intrigue. Are there really werewolves in London? Mummies in the metro? Fear not—Mystery Club is on the case!

In Wild Werewolves, a stranger approaches Zoey and Kyle in the library as they ask the question: “Do you think monsters exist in London?” The stranger gives them information that sets them on a city-wide adventure with Ashley and Tyler. The Mystery Club pieces together the werewolf mystery and the identity of the stranger and a zany series of events ensues.

In Mummy Mischief, train passengers spot a mummy in the subway. Then it happens again! The occurrences are uncanny and strange enough to lure the Mystery Club to action. As they unwrap the mysteries of the mummy appearances, they unearth even more hijinks than they bargained for.

 

bee the changeBee the Change by James Preller (ISBN-13:9781328973399 Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers Publication date: 07/30/2019)

 

The Big Idea Gang is buzzing with excitement! They’re going to show Clay Elementary just how important bees can be in this chapter book series about making a case—and making a difference—by the author of Jigsaw Jones.

After Kym and Lizzie get the awesome opportunity to visit a bee colony, they realize all the wonderful things bees do! But how can it be that these amazing insects are disappearing? And what will happen to our food chain without the great pollinators buzzing about? If only everyone else at Clay Elementary could understand how important the bees are for the environment! Now that’s a big idea that needs to be shared! With the help of Connor and Deon, Kym and Lizzie set out to show their school the beauty of bees, and use their powers of persuasion to make a difference in the world.

 

 

all in a dropAll in a Drop: How Antony van Leeuwenhoek Discovered an Invisible World by Lori Alexander (Author), Vivien Mildenberger (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 978-1328884206 Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers Publication date: 08/06/2019)

For fans of the “Who Was” series, this lively, accessible, and full-color chapter book biography shows how a self-taught scientist was the first to observe the microbial life in and around us. By building his own microscope, Antony van Leeuwenhoek advanced humanity’s understanding of our oft-invisible world around us.

Microbes are everywhere: in the soil and oceans, in snow, and inside our bodies. But in Antony van Leeuwenhoek’s time, people believed that what they saw with their own eyes was all that existed in the world. How did a simple tradesman—who didn’t go to college or speak English or Latin like all the other scientists—change everyone’s minds?

Proving that remarkable discoveries can come from the most unexpected people and places, this eye-opening chapter book, illustrated with lively full-color art, celebrates the power of curiosity, ingenuity, and persistence.

 

beasts ofThe Beasts of Grimheart: Podkin Book 3 by Kieran Larwood, David Wyatt (Illustrator) (ISBN-13:9781328696021 Publisher: Clarion Publication date: 08/13/2019)

The young rabbit Podkin One-Ear and his allies battle to save their land from the evil Gorm tribe. The Longburrow series is Middle Earth for middle graders!

Podkin and his sister and baby brother, Paz and Pook, struggle to keep their ragtag clan of refugees safe from enemies who are destroying the forest in an effort to find them. When they are separated from their clan, the siblings encounter the mysterious and mystical creatures who are the heart of the forest itself. As the fate of all rabbitkind hangs in the balance, the youngsters must recruit these new allies and convince feuding clans to come together in a desperate final battle to defeat the diabolical Gorm.

Action and high stakes propel the climactic struggle in the series that shows anyone—even little rabbits—can do great things.

 

 

song ofSong of the Abyss (Tower of Winds #2) by Makiia Lucier (ISBN-13:9780544968585 Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers Publication date: 08/27/2019)

Ancient grievances, long-held grudges, and dangerous magic combine in this sweeping fantasy perfect for fans of Tamora Pierce and Rachel Hartman.

As the granddaughter of a famed navigator, seventeen-year-old Reyna has always lived life on her own terms, despite those who say a girl could never be an explorer for the royal house of St. John del Mar. She is determined to prove them wrong, and as she returns home after a year-long expedition, she knows her dream is within reach. No longer an apprentice, instead: Reyna, Master Explorer. But when menacing raiders attack her ship, those dreams are pushed aside. Reyna’s escape is both desperate and dangerous, and when next she sees her ship, a mystery rises from the deep. The sailors—her captain, her countrymen—have vanished. To find them, Reyna must use every resource at her disposal . . . including placing her trust in a handsome prince from a rival kingdom. Together they uncover a disturbing truth. The attack was no isolated incident. Troubling signs point to a shadowy kingdom in the north, and for once, the rulers of the Sea of Magdalen agree: something must be done. But can Reyna be brave enough to find a way?

2019 Collection Development Resources, a handy list of resources to help you buy new books in the new year

One of the reasons that I do this blog is that it allows me to create and curate a resource for myself. That’s right, I use this blog as a resource just as much as I hope others might. It works as sort of a journal, a manual if you will, to help me be better at my daytime job. Today I am curating a list of 2019 collection development resources because I want to have them all in one place for myself moving forward, but I’m happy to share them with you and I hope you’ll share your favorite resources with me.

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YA Lit

Rachel has put together an amazing resource for those who purchase YA lit which you can access here: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Q6zleJBHg0EWLG22aC3awjJQk7SaS5qtDlaZEb02XgU/edit?usp=sharing. You can learn more about Rachel at Rec-It Rachel.

Bookbirds has a curated list of YA lit releases which you can find here: http://www.booksbirds.com/2018/02/your-guide-to-2019-ya-releases.html

Stacked books has a list of 2019 YA lit titles with teens of color on the cover. You can view that post here: http://stackedbooks.org/2018/07/2019-ya-books-with-teens-of-color-on-the-cover-so-far.html

Epic Reads has curated Harper’s 2019 YA lit cover reveals here: https://www.epicreads.com/blog/summer-2019-young-adult-book-covers/

You can view the Penguin 2019 YA lit book preview here: http://www.penguinteen.com/2019-penguin-teen-ya-book-preview/

Macmillan has a list of 2019 YA releases which you can view here: http://macmillanlibrary.com/2018/08/20/books-for-teens-2019-ooh-la-la/

Simon Teen has a look at their 2019 YA lit book covers here: https://rivetedlit.com/2018/06/04/your-first-look-at-all-the-covers-for-our-spring-2019-ya-books/

And Goodreads currently has a list of 665 books tagged as 2019 YA lit releases which you can view here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/128821.YA_Novels_of_2019

MG Lit

The Goodreads middle grade list currently has 265 titles on it and you can view that list here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/111975.Middle_Grade_Novels_of_2019

There are some MG novels listed on this 2018 and 2019 spreadsheet over at MG Book Village which you can find here: https://mgbookvillage.org/2018releasedates/

Goodreads also has a list of MG and YA lit titles that feature POC characters here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/111986.2019_YA_MG_Books_With_POC_Leads

Goodreads has a list of MG and YA lit titles that feature GLBTQAI+ themes here: https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/108612.2019_YA_Books_with_Possible_LGBT_Themes

I will be adding to this list as I find new resources and please feel free to add any links you are aware of in the comments. Happy book buying!

 

Book Review: Grump: The (Fairly) True Tale of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves by Liesl Shurtliff

Publisher’s description

grumpFrom the New York Times bestselling author of Rump, comes the true story behind another unlikely hero: a grumpy dwarf who gets tangled up in Snow White’s feud with the wicked queen.

Ever since he was a dwarfling, Borlen (nicknamed “Grump”) has dreamed of visiting The Surface, so when opportunity knocks, he leaves his cavern home behind.
At first, life aboveground is a dream come true. Queen Elfrieda Veronika Ingrid Lenore (E.V.I.L.) is the best friend Grump always wanted, feeding him all the rubies he can eat and allowing him to rule at her side in exchange for magic and information. But as time goes on, Grump starts to suspect that Queen E.V.I.L. may not be as nice as she seems. . . .
When the queen commands him to carry out a horrible task against her stepdaughter Snow White, Grump is in over his head. He’s bound by magic to help the queen, but also to protect Snow White. As if that wasn’t stressful enough, the queen keeps bugging him for updates through her magic mirror! He’ll have to dig deep to find a way out of this pickle, and that’s enough to make any dwarf Grumpy indeed.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

Confession: I’ve never read any of Shurtliff’s books before. Rump, one of her previous books, is really popular in our library. A student noticed I was carrying Grump on the way to lunch one day and practically ripped it out of my hands. And now, having read this book, I totally get the easy appeal of these books: familiar worlds turned on their heads and great world-building. Looks like I have some backlist to read this summer.

 

Most dwarves are born deep underground, but Borlen (later nicknamed “Grump”) was born just under The Surface. As a result, he was always interested in The Surface and the ways of the mysterious world up there. What he wouldn’t give to escape to that world and not have to suffer his fate—being the Seventh in a mining crew. Mining crews have six dwarves; the Seventh is a slot reserved for those considered “a troublemaker or an idiot.” When he joins his crew, he mines his Fate Stone. It’s a rare reflecting stone that works like a magic mirror. To Borlen, it’s just another thing that makes him different. As he gets settled in his new crew, his differences really stand out. The depths make him dizzy and sick. He doesn’t sing while he works. The other dwarves peg him as a grump. There’s not much to like about his new life (or his old life, for that matter), so when he discovers a chance to escape to The Surface, he takes it. He’s quickly “befriended” by the Queen (who, of course, has no real friends and has nefarious reasons for wanting Borlen around) and is supposed to do her bidding—a command that becomes more complicated when he meets Snow White and then has to protect her and do her bidding. Their adventures together lead them to reconnecting with Grump’s mining crew, who are all forced to escape to The Surface and hide out with Grump and Snow White (whom Grump calls “Spoiled Brat”). It’s up to Grump, the allegedly useless Seventh, to figure out how to outwit the Queen and save Snow White.

 

There’s something so satisfying about reading a story where you know the characters and the world, then seeing it turned on its head. This fast-paced story will have readers mentally chiding Grump for going along with the Queen’s plans and cheering for him once he connects with Snow White. A fun look at friendship and belonging. If, like me, this book is readers’ first introduction to the author, they will surely be scrambling to go back and read her older titles. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781524717018
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 05/29/2018