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Book Review: Kiki Kallira Breaks a Kingdom by Sangu Mandanna

Publisher’s description

For fans of the Aru Shah and Serpent’s Secret series, this action-packed fantasy-adventure sees a girl’s drawings of Indian mythology spring to vivid life—including the evil god who seeks to enter the real world and destroy it.

Kiki Kallira has always been a worrier. Did she lock the front door? Is there a terrible reason her mom is late? Recently her anxiety has been getting out of control, but one thing that has always soothed her is drawing. Kiki’s sketchbook is full of fanciful doodles of the rich Indian myths and legends her mother has told her over the years. 

One day, her sketchbook’s calming effect is broken when her mythological characters begin springing to life right out of its pages. Kiki ends up falling into the mystical world she drew, which includes a lot of wonderful discoveries like the band of rebel kids who protect the kingdom, as well as not-so-great ones like the ancient deity bent on total destruction. As the one responsible for creating the evil god, Kiki must overcome her fear and anxiety to save both worlds—the real and the imagined—from his wrath. But how can a girl armed with only a pencil defeat something so powerful?

Amanda’s thoughts

If you know anything about this book, and have been reading my recent reviews, you’re probably like, “Let me guess—she read this book for the SLJ article on mental health in middle grade fiction that she keeps yammering on about.” And you’re right! I did! And like all the others I’ve read for this article, I’m so glad I had a reason to pick this book up (I mean, beyond the reason of, “I’m trying to read every book ever published!” which is a project that is futile, thus sometimes I need a real concrete reason to move a book from “maybe someday” to “right now!”).

When the pocket world Kiki has created in her sketchbooks turns out to be real, and Kiki is now in it, her anxiety has to morph from “oh no, if I left the door unlocked a goose may eat my mom!” (which, honestly, was such a relatable bit of anxiety brain—I mean, maybe minus the specific of the goose) to “can I get out of my own way far enough to save everyone in this world?!” That’s a big ask for anyone, but especially for Kiki, whose anxiety likes to make her worry about everything and doubt herself all the time. And in the real world, she tries to downplay how bad she sometimes feels. Her mom certainly seems loving and receptive and would certainly work to get her help, but Kiki doesn’t want to worry her. But it turns out if you end up somehow living inside a world you drew, you start to have more forthcoming conversations about mental health. This feels right, because Kiki threw herself so thoroughly into books and art as a way to distract from her anxiety, so I love that this very art literally helps her work out what’s going on with her.

The entire quest in Mysore is full of adventure, vibrant characters, and great details. Fantasy fans, whether they are familiar with Hindu mythology or not, will love Kiki’s journey. And while there is plenty of good stuff to say about that entire journey, I want to talk a little more about the mental health rep. I love that we are seeing not only more compassionate and accurate representation in middle grade books, period, but that it’s starting to show up beyond just realistic fiction stories. Because even brave (if somewhat reluctant) warriors can have anxiety! And even people with anxiety can become brave warriors! Kiki goes from feeling like her anxiety is her fault, like if she were stronger or braver this wouldn’t be happening to her, to understanding she has an illness that is just a part of her but not all of her.

Kiki learns important lessons on her quest. It’s okay to be messy and anxious and scared. You can still fight the monster, even if it’s in your brain. You can still be in control, be master of your fate, bear your teeth at the wolf. The monsters won’t always be there. You can take back your world. You just might need a little help along the way. And that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. Asking for help makes you an even braver warrior.

A fantastic and empowering read.

ISBN-13: 9780593206973
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 07/06/2021
Series: Kiki Kallira #1
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Finding Junie Kim by Ellen Oh

Publisher’s description

For fans of Inside Out and Back Again and Amina’s Voice, We Need Diverse Books cofounder Ellen Oh creates a breathtaking story of family, hope, and survival, inspired by her mother’s real-life experiences during the Korean War. Faced with middle school racism, Junie Kim learns of her grandparents’ extraordinary strength and finds her voice.

“Filled with unforgettable characters, this profoundly moving story about a girl’s search for self is at once both unique and universal, timely and timeless. A book that should be on every shelf.” —Padma Venkatraman, Walter Award-winning author of The Bridge Home

Junie Kim just wants to fit in. So she keeps her head down and tries not to draw attention to herself. But when racist graffiti appears at her middle school, Junie must decide between staying silent or speaking out.

Then Junie’s history teacher assigns a project and Junie decides to interview her grandparents, learning about their unbelievable experiences as kids during the Korean War. Junie comes to admire her grandma’s fierce determination to overcome impossible odds, and her grandpa’s unwavering compassion during wartime. And as racism becomes more pervasive at school, Junie taps into the strength of her ancestors and finds the courage to do what is right.

Finding Junie Kim is a reminder that within all of us lies the power to overcome hardship and emerge triumphant.

Amanda’s thoughts

This is another book I picked up to read in preparation for my upcoming SLJ article on mental health in middle grade fiction. I have the luxury of reading at work when the kids do their cuddle up and read time, and I got so into this story that it was really difficult for me to not keep sneaking in a few pages here and there throughout the day.

Junie Kim is not feeling like herself. She’s cranky, cynical, sleeping all the time, moody, and just feels down. Those feelings eventually escalate to suicidal ideation, which lands her, thankfully, with a doctor and a therapist helping her through her major depressive disorder diagnosis. She gets good help, has supportive and loving parents, and is on medication. Readers see her move from one therapist to a second because the first was not a good fit. We see what therapy looks like for her and learn about mindfulness and emotion regulation. She has rough times, she gets help, she shares what’s going on with her to complete acceptance and understanding from people in her life, and we can rest assured that Junie is being well taken care of.

I picked this book up for its mental health rep, but was delighted to find so much else going on in Junie’s story (because, after all, a mental illness is always just one part of your story—it’s never your whole definition). Junie and her friends are dealing with racist vandalism at school and Junie hears a near infinite stream of racist garbage from certain peers. She and her friends brainstorm ways to be activists and to inspire their classmates to recognize racism and stand up against it. The other biggest piece of Junie’s current life is learning the stories of her grandparents’ younger years during the Korean War. Through their storytelling, we are put right back there with them, learning what they endured and dreamed of. Their own stories are riveting and their effect on Junie inspires action in her daily life as well as a deeper understanding of what her family has been through. An important read about standing up for yourself and others, about getting help, and about enduring. I’m so glad I didn’t miss this book.

ISBN-13: 9780062987983
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/04/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Post-It Note Reviews: Gary Paulsen’s memoir, Huda F Are You?, Other Boys, and more

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.

Frequent blog readers may have noticed I’m doing a lot more post-it-style reviews and less longer, individual review posts. Partially this is because my way of coping with the many upsetting pieces of the past year has been to drown myself in reading, so I’m burning through so many more books and want to share them, in some form, here. It’s been so hard for authors to be able to promote their books, through things like release parties or festivals or other events, and I want to share as many books as I can particularly these days to help them get the exposure they deserve.

All descriptions from the publishers. Transcriptions of the Post-It notes are below each description.

Gone to the Woods: Surviving a Lost Childhood by Gary Paulsen (ISBN-13: 9780374314156 Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publication date: 01/12/2021, Ages 12+)

“A riveting, hopeful survival story.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review

A mesmerizing memoir from a living literary legend, giving readers a new perspective on the origins of Gary Paulsen’s famed survival stories.

His name is synonymous with high-stakes wilderness survival stories. Now, beloved author Gary Paulsen portrays a series of life-altering moments from his turbulent childhood as his own original survival story. If not for his summer escape from a shockingly neglectful Chicago upbringing to a North Woods homestead at age five, there never would have been a Hatchet. Without the encouragement of the librarian who handed him his first book at age thirteen, he may never have become a reader. And without his desperate teenage enlistment in the Army, he would not have discovered his true calling as a storyteller.

An entrancing account of grit and growing up, perfect for newcomers and lifelong fans alike, this is the famed author at his rawest and most real.

(POST-IT SAYS: What a book! What a life! Deeply moving memoir of neglect, trauma, and survival. A complex and emotional read that’s just as engaging as his fiction–maybe even more so. One of my favorite reads of 2021.)

J.D. and the Hair Show Showdown by J. Dillard, Akeem S. Roberts (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593111604 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/16/2021 Series: J.D. the Kid Barber #3, Ages 7-10)

Eight-year-old kid barber J.D. takes his talent to an Atlanta hair show in this illustrated chapter-book series.

At only eight years old, J.D. the Kid Barber has already won a barber battle and appeared on local TV. Now he’s the youngest barber to be invited to the Beauty Brothers Hair Expo in Atlanta! J.D. gets the VIP treatment—he takes his first flight, rides in a limo for the first time, and gets gifts from the show’s sponsors. At the show, there are hair classes to take, product samples to try, and some of J.D.’s favorite hair influencers to meet. And, of course, there’s his own demo alongside kid hairstylist, Isabel Is Incredible. But what J.D. is most excited about is snapping a pic with eleven-year-old rap sensation Li’l Eazy Breezy, which is harder than it sounds! The world of hair and beauty is so much bigger than J.D. could’ve imagined, and he’s ready to step up his game.

Check out the other chapter books in the J.D. the Kid Barber series:
J.D. and the Great Barber Battle
J.D. and the Family Business

(POST-IT SAYS: Loved this! J.D. is living his best life and so full of joy and enthusiasm. Large illustrations convey those feelings and give readers a look at J.D.’s amazing time at the hair expo. Quick, go order this series!)

Bad Sister by Charise Mericle Harper, Rory Lucey (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781250219053 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 09/14/2021, Ages 8-12)

This middle grade graphic memoir by Charise Mericle Harper, featuring illustrations by Rory Lucey, follows a young girl who undergoes a crisis of conscience, realizing that she is a “bad sister.”

Meet Charise.

She’s energetic, helpful, a model pet owner and full of inventions.

But she’s also a bad sister. When she goes too far and breaks little brother Daniel’s tooth, can she redeem herself? Is an accident really an accident if you could have stopped it? 

But most importantly… What does it mean to be a good sister?

(POST-IT SAYS: Reckless and often mean Charise doesn’t want to be a bad sister, but just can’t help herself. Her badness is the usual stuff of growing up, but leaves lasting impressions and creates real change. Perfect for fans of Hale, Holm, and Telgemeier.)

The 1619 Project: Born on the Water by Nikole Hannah-Jones, Renée Watson, Nikkolas Smith (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593307359 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/16/2021, Ages 7-10)

The 1619 Project’s lyrical picture book in verse chronicles the consequences of slavery and the history of Black resistance in the United States, thoughtfully rendered by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones and Newbery honor-winning author Renée Watson. 

A young student receives a family tree assignment in school, but she can only trace back three generations. Grandma gathers the whole family, and the student learns that 400 years ago, in 1619, their ancestors were stolen and brought to America by white slave traders. 
But before that, they had a home, a land, a language. She learns how the people said to be born on the water survived.

And the people planted dreams and hope,
willed themselves to keep
living, living.

And the people learned new words
for love
for friend
for family

for joy
for grow
for home.

With powerful verse and striking illustrations by Nikkolas Smith, Born on the Water provides a pathway for readers of all ages to reflect on the origins of American identity.

(POST-IT SAYS: Profoundly moving. A beautiful book that’s a lyrical ode to strength, origins, ancestry, dreams, and pride. Stunning and full of emotion. This is not to be missed.)

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy (ISBN-13: 9780593324318 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/23/2021, Ages 12-17)

From the creator of Yes, I’m Hot In This, this cheeky, hilarious, and honest graphic novel asks the question everyone has to figure out for themselves: Who are you?

Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.

Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t to figure out who she is.

(POST-IT SAYS: One million more books about Huda and her family—especially that “invisible” sister—please! Great look at identity, personality, and acceptance. Heavy issues are addressed and balanced out by bright, cartoonish art and plenty of humor.)

Born Behind Bars by Padma Venkatraman (ISBN-13: 9780593112472 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/07/2021, Ages 10-14)

“Venkatraman has never met a heavy theme she did not like….Borrowing elements of fable, it’s told with a recurring sense of awe by a boy whom the world, for most of his life, has existed only in stories.”—New York Times Book Review 

The author of the award-winning The Bridge Home brings readers another gripping novel set in Chennai, India, featuring a boy who’s unexpectedly released into the world after spending his whole life in jail with his mom.

Kabir has been in jail since the day he was born, because his mom is serving time for a crime she didn’t commit. He’s never met his dad, so the only family he’s got are their cellmates, and the only place he feels the least bit free is in the classroom, where his kind teacher regales him with stories of the wonders of the outside world. Then one day a new warden arrives and announces Kabir is too old to stay. He gets handed over to a long-lost “uncle” who unfortunately turns out to be a fraud, and intends to sell Kabir. So Kabir does the only thing he can–run away as fast as his legs will take him. How does a boy with nowhere to go and no connections make his way? Fortunately, he befriends Rani, another street kid, and she takes him under her wing. But plotting their next move is hard–and fraught with danger–in a world that cares little for homeless, low caste children. This is not the world Kabir dreamed of–but he’s discovered he’s not the type to give up. Kabir is ready to show the world that he–and his mother–deserve a place in it.

(POST-IT SAYS: Pretty dark subject matter and perilous situations, but the fast-pace and can-do attitude keep it from feeling too heavy. Examines poverty, caste, religion, and incarceration. A complex story full of adventure and of hope.)

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, Stephanie Yue (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781984895639 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 01/05/2021 Series: Katie the Catsitter #1, Ages 8-12)

Calling all Raina Telgemeier fans! Introducing an irresistible new middle-grade graphic novel series about growing up, friendship, heroes, and cats (lots of cats!)–perfect for fans of GutsAwkward and Real Friends (not to mention anyone who loves cats!)

Katie is dreading the boring summer ahead while her best friends are all away at camp–something that’s way out of Katie and her mom’s budget, UNLESS Katie can figure out a way to earn the money for camp herself. But when Katie gets a job catsitting for her mysterious upstairs neighbor, life get interesting. First, Madeline has 217 cats (!) and they’re not exactly . . . normal cats. Also, why is Madeline always out EXACTLY when the city’s most notorious villain commits crimes?! Is it possible that Katie’s upstairs neighbor is really a super villain? Can Katie wrangle a whole lot of wayward cats, save a best friendship (why is Beth barely writing back? And who’s this boy she keeps talking about?!), AND crack the biggest story in the city’s history? Some heroes have capes . . . Katie has cats!

(POST-IT SAYS: I’m obsessed! 217 cats! Superheroes! Activism! A diverse cast of characters! I loved all the details in the art, especially with those busy cats. Full of whimsy, humor, justice, and CATS!)

The Daily Bark: The Puppy Problem by Laura James (ISBN-13: 9781547608812 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/11/2022, Ages 7-10)

The first book in a charming new chapter book series about enterprising young pups who start a neighborhood newspaper, for fans of The Secret Life of Pets.

Gizmo is a city dog, so when he moves to the village of Puddle with his journalist human, he doesn’t know WHAT to expect. Certainly not FLOWERS. Or BEES. And he couldn’t have even imagined MUD. Luckily he’s got Jilly, the wolfhound next door, to show him around. 

But Jilly has a problem. Her puppies are going to be adopted by new owners who live far away — she’ll never see them again! Gizmo has got a nose for a story, and a great idea to help Jilly. What if the dogs of Puddle started a newspaper to get the word out and keep these pups closer to home? Stop the presses!

Perfect for fans of The Secret Life of Pets, this is the first book in a charming and humorous new chapter book series — featuring full-color illustrations — about the things dogs get up to when their humans aren’t looking.

(POST-IT SAYS: So cute I can hardly stand it! Sweet doxie Gizmo and his new friends live busy lives of jobs, caretaking, and adventure. I look forward to more Daily Bark stories!)

Other Boys by Damian Alexander (ISBN-13: 9781250222817 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 09/28/2021, Ages 10-14)

In Other Boys, debut author Damian Alexander delivers a moving middle grade graphic memoir about his struggles with bullying, the death of his mother, and coming out.

Damian is the new kid at school, and he has a foolproof plan to avoid the bullying that’s plagued him his whole childhood: he’s going to stop talking. Starting on the first day seventh grade, he won’t utter a word. If he keeps his mouth shut, the bullies will have nothing to tease him about—right?

But Damian’s vow of silence doesn’t work—his classmates can tell there’s something different about him. His family doesn’t look like the kind on TV: his mother is dead, his father is gone, and he’s being raised by his grandparents in a low-income household. And Damian does things that boys aren’t supposed do, like play with Barbies instead of GI Joe. Kids have teased him about this his whole life, especially other boys. But if boys can be so cruel, why does Damian have a crush on one?

(POST-IT SAYS: What an empathetic and tender story. All about gender, sexuality, family, bullies, and trauma. A really lovely look at how difficult childhood can be for so many reasons.)

Besties: Work It Out by Kayla Miller, Jeffrey Canino, Kristina Luu (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780358521150 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 10/19/2021 Series: World of Click Series, Ages 8-12)

A fun and fresh graphic-novel series spin-off of the New York Times best-selling Click books, featuring aspiring entrepreneurs Beth and Chanda! When the girls land a lucrative dogsitting gig, they’re sure that fame, fortune, and popularity can’t be far behind, but nothing can prepare them for the mishap that throws their business plan—and friendship—into chaos!
 
Meet Beth and Chanda, two stylish best friends on their way to building their fashion empire! An unexpected business opportunity presents itself when the girls are asked to dogsit at Ms. Langford’s luxurious house while she’s away, but it quickly turns into a disaster after an accident leaves one of Ms. Langford’s prized possessions in pieces! Now Beth and Chanda have to take on as many odd jobs as they can in order to afford a replacement. Car washing, book sales, interior decorating—you name it, Beth and Chanda are there! Will they be able to patch up their mistake in time?
 
New York Times best-selling author Kayla Miller and co-author Jeffrey Canino deliver a vibrant and honest story about middle school friendships and personal responsibility. Accompanied by Kristina Luu’s fizzy, expressive art style, this graphic novel is the perfect companion to Olive’s existing stories.

(POST-IT SAYS: Great to see two kids working odd jobs to make money and learning lessons about responsibility along the way. I hope we see more stories about the characters from the Click series.)

Book Review: Living with Viola by Rosena Fung

Publisher’s description

Heartbreakingly honest and quietly funny, this #ownvoices graphic novel from a debut creator is a refreshingly real exploration of mental health, cultural differences, and the trials of middle school.

Livy is already having trouble fitting in as the new girl at school—and then there’s Viola. Viola is Livy’s anxiety brought to life, a shadowy twin that only Livy can see or hear. Livy tries to push back against Viola’s relentless judgment, but nothing seems to work until she strikes up new friendships at school. Livy hopes that Viola’s days are numbered. But when tensions arise both at home and at school, Viola rears her head stronger than ever. Only when Livy learns how to ask for help and face her anxiety does she finally figure out living with Viola.

Rosena Fung draws on her own early experiences with anxiety and the pressures of growing up as the child of Chinese immigrant parents to craft a charming, deeply personal story that combines the poignancy of Raina Telgemeier’s Guts with the wacky humor of Lumberjanes. Exuberant, colorful art brings Livy’s rich imaginative world—filled with everything from sentient dumplings to flying unicorns—to life on the page.

Amanda’s thoughts

Hard to do better than this book. Rosena Fung makes it clear just how cruel, smothering, and omnipresent mental illness can be as Viola, Livy’s anxieties, tags along behind her all day, shouting a constant stream of lies and worst-case scenarios at her. Livy is trying to navigate her 6th grade life, but it’s hard when there is just so much to worry about. She finds solace in books and art, but it’s hard to keep Viola quiet, even if Livy is otherwise occupied. She’s at a new school and figuring out new friendships. She’s self-conscious about her parents’ jobs and what her home is like. She’s made to feel inferior to how her cousins are doing and what their goals are. Even her lunches aren’t “right”—other kids make fun of how they smell, making her even more self-conscious about everything. She doesn’t feel like she fits anywhere, and a lot of that is just typical middle school stuff that will probably get worked out as time goes on, but a lot of it is specifically Viola, or her anxiety. It has a special knack for trying to ruin absolutely everything and gripping onto the smallest thing and making Livy feel terrible as she fixates on it.

Hard as all that is, there is so much good that happens over the course of the story. Friend things get figured out, though there are some rocky moments, Livy learns to share pieces of her home life and her culture with her new friends, and, most importantly, Livy finally confesses all of her fears and stresses to her parents, who get her help. When she tells new friend Charlotte what’s been going on, she shrugs it off as perfectly normal—her sister is in therapy too—it’s no big deal. Livy learns coping mechanisms that will begin to keep the worst of her anxiety at bay and will ground her in hard moments. An author’s note explains how Livy’s experiences mirror so many of Fung’s while growing up.

I am so glad that not only are we seeing so many more middle grade stories that address mental health concerns, but that we’re seeing these stories presented in a variety of ways. The graphic novel format is well-suited for this story as readers will see the impact of what it’s like to have a mental illness tagging along beside your every move. Smart, empathetic, and hopeful. I loved this.

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781773215488
Publisher: Annick Press, Limited
Publication date: 11/30/2021
Age Range: 9 – 12 Years

Book Review: Home Home by Lisa Allen-Agostini

Publisher’s description

Fans of Monday’s Not Coming and Girl in Pieces will love this award-winning novel about a girl on the verge of losing herself and her unlikely journey to recovery after she is removed from anything and everyone she knows to be home.

Moving from Trinidad to Canada wasn’t her idea. But after being hospitalized for depression, her mother sees it as the only option. Now, living with an estranged aunt she barely remembers and dealing with her “troubles” in a foreign country, she feels more lost than ever.

Everything in Canada is cold and confusing. No one says hello, no one walks anywhere, and bus trips are never-ending and loud. She just wants to be home home, in Trinidad, where her only friend is going to school and Sunday church service like she used to do.

But this new home also brings unexpected surprises: the chance at a family that loves unconditionally, the possibility of new friends, and the promise of a hopeful future. Though she doesn’t see it yet, Canada is a place where she can feel at home–if she can only find the courage to be honest with herself.

Amanda’s thoughts

This is another book I picked up as I worked on my article on mental health in middle grade fiction for SLJ. The main character here is 14 and in 9th grade, but I think this could comfortably be called upper middle grade. I don’t know how I missed this when it first came out (because I really do try to Read All The Books), but I’m so glad I got to read this now.

After Kayla attempts suicide, her mother ships her from Trinidad to her aunts in Canada. Here, Kayla receives the support, understanding, love, and, most importantly, treatment she was not getting at home. While her mother loves her, she does not understand what Kayla is going through, nor does she even really believes mental illness is real, and is ashamed and embarrassed by Kayla. As Kayla tells a new friend, at home (home home, Trinidad), people would view her illness as demon possession or just bad behavior. While it’s for the best that Kayla is now in an environment that’s positive for her, it’s still hard (obviously) to move countries and be away from everything you know. But things start to feel more like home and, through diary entry exercises from her therapist, we see Kayla start to work through her feelings about her mother. This short book is a hopeful look at moving forward through mental illness and the importance of mental health concerns being taken seriously.

ISBN-13: 9781984893581
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 05/26/2020
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Book Mail: Graphic novels, YA, Middle Grade, and more!

Zoinks! This was one day’s book mail!

There was a time during this pandemic when I would go weeks without getting book mail. Not the case any longer! My cart of books to attempt to read is overflowing and no matter how many books I send out the door (to my kid’s high school, to my elementary school, through giveaways), just as many reappear soon after. Good problems to have, I know.

Here’s a look at what has arrived here lately. Get out your TBR lists, your order lists, your library card, and be ready to dive into lots of new and interesting books!

All descriptions from the publishers.

Graceling: The Graphic Novel by Kristin Cashore, Gareth Hinds (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780358250470 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 11/16/2021, Ages 14-18)

The beloved New York Times best-selling YA fantasy by Kristin Cashore is now available as a graphic novel, with stunning illustrations by award-winning artist Gareth Hinds.

Katsa is a Graceling, one of the rare people born with an extreme skill. As niece of the king, she lived a life of privilege until the day her ability to kill a man with her bare hands revealed itself during a royal banquet. Now she acts as her uncle’s enforcer, traveling the kingdom and threatening those who dare oppose him.

But everything changes when she meets Po, a foreign prince Graced with combat skills who is searching for the truth about his grandfather’s disappearance. When Katsa agrees to help him, she never expects to learn a new truth about her own Grace—or about a terrible secret that could destroy them all.

With “gorgeous storytelling” (School Library Journal, starred review) and characters “crafted with meticulous devotion” (Kirkus Reviews, starred review), Graceling is a beloved classic that has continued to resonate with readers for over a decade.

The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass by Anna Priemaza (ISBN-13: 9781419752599 Publisher: ABRAMS Publication date: 11/16/2021, Ages 12-18)

A mind-bending YA novel about a world where everyone has a bit of magic in them—but some magic is being used to change the world in unspeakable ways

Vera has a nagging feeling that she’s forgetting something. Not her keys or her homework—something bigger. Or someone. When she discovers her best friend Riven is experiencing the same strange feeling, they set out on a mission to uncover what’s going on. Everyone in Vera’s world has a special ability—a little bit of magic that helps them through the day. Perhaps someone’s ability is interfering with their memory? Or is something altering their very reality? Vera and Riven intend to fix it and get back whatever or whomever they’ve lost. But how do you find the truth when you can’t even remember what you’re looking for in the first place? The Forgotten Memories of Vera Glass is a cleverly constructed, heartbreaking, and compelling contemporary YA novel with a slight fantasy twist about memory, love, grief, and the invisible bonds that tie us to each other.

Huda F Are You? by Huda Fahmy (ISBN-13: 9780593324318 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 11/23/2021, Ages 12-17)

From the creator of Yes, I’m Hot In This, this cheeky, hilarious, and honest graphic novel asks the question everyone has to figure out for themselves: Who are you?

Huda and her family just moved to Dearborn, Michigan, a small town with a big Muslim population. In her old town, Huda knew exactly who she was: She was the hijabi girl. But in Dearborn, everyone is the hijabi girl.

Huda is lost in a sea of hijabis, and she can’t rely on her hijab to define her anymore. She has to define herself. So she tries on a bunch of cliques, but she isn’t a hijabi fashionista or a hijabi athlete or a hijabi gamer. She’s not the one who knows everything about her religion or the one all the guys like. She’s miscellaneous, which makes her feel like no one at all. Until she realizes that it’ll take finding out who she isn’t to figure out who she is.

The Golden Hour by Niki Smith (ISBN-13: 9780316540339 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 11/23/2021, Ages 8-12)

From the author of The Deep & Dark Blue comes a tender graphic novel, perfect for our time, that gently explores themes of self-discovery, friendship, healing from tragedy, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Struggling with anxiety after witnessing a harrowing instance of gun violence, Manuel Soto copes through photography, using his cell-phone camera to find anchors that keep him grounded. His days are a lonely, latchkey monotony until he’s teamed with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project.

Sebastian lives on a grass-fed cattle farm outside of town, and Manuel finds solace in the open fields and in the antics of the newborn calf Sebastian is hand-raising. As Manuel aides his new friends in their preparations for the local county fair, he learns to open up, confronts his deepest fears, and even finds first love.

This title will be simultaneously available in hardcover.

Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, Raúl the Third (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781534418165 Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books Publication date: 11/30/2021, Ages 7-12)

From Newbery Medal honoree and #1 New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a hilarious, hopeful, and action-packed middle grade novel about the greatest young superhero you’ve never heard of, filled with illustrations by Raúl the Third!

Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes—like his parents and two best friends—stay super. And safe. Super safe. And he does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s actually…Stuntboy!

But his regular Portico identity is pretty cool, too. He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle. His mom calls where they live an apartment building. But a building with fifty doors just in the hallways is definitely a castle. And behind those fifty doors live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy saves all the time. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives.

All this is swell except for Portico’s other secret, his not-so-super secret. His parents are fighting allthe time. They’re trying to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime.” But Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are heading into the Mean Time which means they’re about to get into it, and well, Portico’s superhero responsibility is to save them, too—as soon as he figures out how.

Only, all these secrets give Portico the worry wiggles, the frets, which his mom calls anxiety. Plus, like all superheroes, Portico has an arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all.

Living With Viola by Rosena Fung (ISBN-13: 9781773215488 Publisher: Annick Press, Limited Publication date: 11/30/2021, Ages 9-12)

Heartbreakingly honest and quietly funny, this #ownvoices graphic novel from a debut creator is a refreshingly real exploration of mental health, cultural differences, and the trials of middle school.

Livy is already having trouble fitting in as the new girl at school—and then there’s Viola. Viola is Livy’s anxiety brought to life, a shadowy twin that only Livy can see or hear. Livy tries to push back against Viola’s relentless judgment, but nothing seems to work until she strikes up new friendships at school. Livy hopes that Viola’s days are numbered. But when tensions arise both at home and at school, Viola rears her head stronger than ever. Only when Livy learns how to ask for help and face her anxiety does she finally figure out living with Viola.

Rosena Fung draws on her own early experiences with anxiety and the pressures of growing up as the child of Chinese immigrant parents to craft a charming, deeply personal story that combines the poignancy of Raina Telgemeier’s Guts with the wacky humor of Lumberjanes. Exuberant, colorful art brings Livy’s rich imaginative world—filled with everything from sentient dumplings to flying unicorns—to life on the page.

Fools In Love: Fresh Twists on Romantic Tales by Ashley Herring Blake (Editor), Rebecca Podos (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9780762472345 Publisher: Running Press Book Publishers Publication date: 12/07/2021, Ages 13-18)

Join fifteen bestselling, award-winning, and up-and-coming authors as they reimagine some of the most popular tropes in the romance genre. 

Fake relationships. Enemies to lovers. Love triangles and best friends, mistaken identities and missed connections. This collection of genre-bending and original stories celebrates how love always finds a way, featuring powerful flora, a superhero and his nemesis, a fantastical sled race through snow-capped mountains, a golf tournament, the wrong ride-share, and even the end of the world. With stories written by Rebecca Barrow, Ashley Herring Blake, Gloria Chao, Mason Deaver, Sara Farizan, Claire Kann, Malinda Lo, Hannah Moskowitz, Natasha Ngan, Rebecca Podos, Lilliam Rivera, Laura Silverman, Amy Spalding, Rebecca Kim Wells, and Julian Winters this collection is sure to sweep you off your feet. 

Louie and Bear in the Land of Anything Goes by Brady Smith (ISBN-13: 9780593224151 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 12/07/2021, Ages 8-12)

Get sucked in – literally – to the Land of Anything Goes with Louie and Bear, in this hilarious graphic novel filled with bizarre new worlds, crazy creatures, and a whole lot of adventure! Perfect for fans of Hilo and Cardboard Kingdom!

Welcome to the Land of Anything Goes! It’s a world filled with wild creatures, absurd chicken-boy hybrids, and oh, did we mention the giant, winged, kid-eating monster called a Cacapoop?

When Louie and his pet hamster get sucked through a portal into a bizarre new land where truly anything can happen, they have no idea the adventure that’s waiting for them. Really, they’re less focused on adventure and more concerned about the fact that Louie has turned into a wrestler, Scooty the hamster has become Bear the giant bear, and they’re now being chased across a purple planet by a terrifying monster! When they find other kids stuck on the planet too, they learn that things are even worse than they feared — dozens of kids are trapped by the dastardly Harry Larry, and it’s up to Louie to save them all. And if that wasn’t worrying enough, Bear can’t even find a single burrito to eat! In order to make it home alive, Louie and Bear will have to embrace their destinies and save the day… or be stranded in the Land of Anything Goes forever.

I Know Your Secret by Daphne Benedis-Grab (ISBN-13: 9781338746334 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 12/07/2021, Ages 8-12)

One of Us is Lying meets Pretty Little Liars for middle-grade readers.

The email arrives Sunday night: Do exactly what I say, when I say it, or I will reveal your secret.

On Monday morning, seventh graders Owen, Gemma, Ally, and Todd, who have nothing in common and barely know each other, must work together and follow the instructions of an anonymous blackmailer. None of them want to go along with the blackmailer’s instructions, but each of them have a secret they must protect at all costs.

Set during a single day of school, the students race against the clock to complete a disquieting set of tasks, with fast-paced chapters detailing each moment of the day interspersed with a later interview-style recording made by the quartet.

I Know Your Secret is an exploration of why we conceal the truth, how far we’ll go to keep it hidden, and the power of being honest.

Nightrender by Jodi Meadows (ISBN-13: 9780823448685 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 01/04/2022, Ages 14-17)

Kingdoms will fall, gods will die, and hearts will be broken in this sprawling new fantasy from New York Times bestselling author Jodi Meadows.

In the middle of nothingness is the Island of Salvation. 

Reality bends easily here. Villages disappear. Forests burn forever. Pockets of inconsistent time are everywhere, their boundaries strung with yellow ribbon. And the three kingdoms of Salvation have been at war for a thousand years. 

But the greatest threat is the Malice, an incursion from the demon plane slowly tearing its way through the world’s weakest seams. Seams that—once split—will lead to the total unraveling of night and day, light and dark, life and death. 

Not that the human world takes much interest. Of more concern is the upcoming marriage of Rune Hightower, Prince of Caberwill, and Johanne Fortuin, Princess of Embria—the serpent bride, a girl of famous cunning—which offers a possible end to the ancient conflict. But Rune has noticed the growing darkness, and he is determined to summon mankind’s only defense: Nightrender, the hammer of the gods, an immortal warrior more weapon than girl.

There is only one problem. The last time she was summoned, she slaughtered every royal in Salvation, and no one knows why. Will she save humanity from the Malice… or plunge it deeper into the fires of eternal war?

The Daily Bark: The Puppy Problem by Laura James (ISBN-13: 9781547608805 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/11/2022, Ages 7-10)

The first book in a charming new chapter book series about enterprising young pups who start a neighborhood newspaper, for fans of The Secret Life of Pets.

Gizmo is a city dog, so when he moves to the village of Puddle with his journalist human, he doesn’t know WHAT to expect. Certainly not FLOWERS. Or BEES. And he couldn’t have even imagined MUD. Luckily he’s got Jilly, the wolfhound next door, to show him around. 

But Jilly has a problem. Her puppies are going to be adopted by new owners who live far away — she’ll never see them again! Gizmo has got a nose for a story, and a great idea to help Jilly. What if the dogs of Puddle started a newspaper to get the word out and keep these pups closer to home? Stop the presses!

Perfect for fans of The Secret Life of Pets, this is the first book in a charming and humorous new chapter book series — featuring full-color illustrations — about the things dogs get up to when their humans aren’t looking.

Ashes of Gold by J. Elle ( ISBN-13: 9781534470705
Publisher: Denene Millner Books/Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication date: 01/11/2022 Series: Wings of Ebony, Ages 14-18)

In the heart-pounding conclusion to the Wings of Ebony duology, which #1 New York Times bestselling author Nicole Yoon calls “bold, inventive, big-hearted and deeply perceptive,” Rue makes her final stand to reclaim her people’s stolen magic.

Rue has no memory of how she ended up locked in a basement prison without her magic or her allies. But she’s a girl from the East Row. And girls from the East Row don’t give up. Girls from the East Row pick themselves back up when they fall. Girls from the East Row break themselves out.

But reuniting with her friends is only half the battle. When she finds them again, Rue makes a vow: she will find a way to return the magic that the Chancellor has stolen from her father’s people. Yet even on Yiyo Peak, Rue is a misfit—with half a foot back in Houston and half a heart that is human as well as god, she’s not sure she’s the right person to lead the fight to reclaim a glorious past. 

When a betrayal sends her into a tailspin, Rue must decide who to trust and how to be the leader that her people deserve…because if she doesn’t, it isn’t just Yiyo that will be destroyed—it will be Rue herself.

Dolphin Girl 2: Eye of the Baloney Storm by Zach Smith (ISBN-13: 9781645950202 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 01/18/2022 Series: Dolphin Girl #2, Ages 8-12)

Attention fans of Lunch Lady and Steven Universe! Middle grade graphic novel superhero-in-training Dolphin Girl is back fending off cold cut storms and learning to deal with a new (super-annoying) rival in the second book in this side-splitting series.

Ever since the evil Sea Cow tried to steal Dolphin Girl and Captain Dugong’s restaurant/hideout in Trouble in Pizza Paradise!, business has been bad. Dolphin Girl attempts to rebrand the restaurant, but everyone who works there hates the new outfits and the new music. Even worse, there’s a new superhero in town—everyone loves, Wonder Friend and they seemingly can do no wrong. On the other hand, Dolphin Girl is getting everything wrong. 

But when Sea Cow returns to cover Midwestern Deerburbia in a blizzard of baloney, Dolphin Girl and Otter Boy have no choice but to team up with the all-too-wonderful Wonder Friend to prevent their town from becoming a big Jimmy John’s sandwich!

With bold, bright, energetic illustration Into the Baloney Storm serves up a graphic novel that fans of Steven Universe will be eager to sink their teeth into.

The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid by Matt Wallace (ISBN-13: 9780063008038 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/25/2022, Ages 8-12)

Matt Wallace, author of Bump, presents a personal, humorous, and body-positive middle grade standalone about a fat kid who wants to stop his bullies . . . and enlists the help of the world’s most infamous supervillain. Perfect for fans of Holly Goldberg Sloan, Julie Murphy, and John David Anderson!

Max’s first year of middle school hasn’t been easy. Eighth-grade hotshot Johnny Pro torments Max constantly, for no other reason than Max is fat and an easy target. Max wishes he could fight back, but he doesn’t want to hurt Johnny . . . just make him feel the way Max feels.

In desperation, Max writes to the only person he thinks will understand: imprisoned supervillain Master Plan, a “gentleman of size.” To his surprise, Master Plan wants to help! He suggests a way for Max to get even with Johnny Pro, and change how the other kids at school see them both.

And it works! When Master Plan’s help pays off for Max in ways he couldn’t have imagined, he starts gaining confidence—enough to finally talk to Marina, the girl he likes in class who shares his passion for baking. With Master Plan in his corner, anything seems possible . . . but is there a price to pay for the supervillain’s help?

Just Harriet by Elana K. Arnold (ISBN-13: 9780063092044 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/01/2022, Ages 6-10)

From the award-winning author of A Boy Called Bat comes a new young middle grade series in the tradition of Ramona and Clementine, starring an unforgettable girl named Harriet.

There are a few things you should know about Harriet Wermer:

  • She just finished third grade. 
  • She has a perfect cat named Matzo Ball. 
  • She doesn’t always tell the truth. 
  • She is very happy to be spending summer vacation away from home and her mom and dad and all the wonderful things she had been planning all year.

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t entirely the truth.

Of course, there’s nothing Harriet doesn’t like about Marble Island, the small island off the coast of California where her nanu runs a cozy little bed and breakfast. And nobody doesn’t love Moneypenny, Nanu’s old basset hound. But Harriet doesn’t like the fact that Dad made this decision without even asking her.

When Harriet arrives on Marble Island, however, she discovers that it’s full of surprises, and even a mystery. One that seems to involve her Dad, back when he was a young boy living on Marble Island. One that Harriet is absolutely going to solve. And that’s the truth.

The River Between Hearts by Heather Mateus Sappenfield (ISBN-13: 9781646032068 Publisher: Regal House Publishing Publication date: 02/01/2022, Ages 9-12)

On an ordinary Monday, Rill Kruse left for third grade with a dad, but when she came home, he’d been stolen. By a river. One year and thirteen days later—on the first morning of summer vacation—Rill still insists he’s trudging home. Her mom has become a practical woman. Her older brother, Eddy, now calls her baby and dork. Gus, second-in-command at Kruse Whitewater Adventures, Rill’s family’s rafting company, has gone from being her dad’s “risk bro” to her mom’s guardian angel. Joyce, company secretary, arm-wrestler, and mechanic, still calls Rill a fingerling, but, after learning what a cheater water is, Rill wishes she’d stop. When Rill’s cat, Clifford, leads her to the family tree fort on the mountainside behind home, she discovers a stowaway, Perla. To help Perla, Rill embarks on an adventure that tests her understanding of the world, of loss, and of what it means to be a friend. In the end, what Rill discovers will nudge her—and all those she loves—toward healing.

Cameron Battle and the Hidden Kingdoms by Jamar J. Perry (ISBN-13: 9781547606948 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 02/01/2022, Ages 8-11)

As the true Descendant, I command to open
The door to Chidani; it shall be broken

Magic awaits those who seek the queen’s peace
And all the suffering you feel will cease

Those who open the histories will hear a sound
What was lost has finally been found.

Cameron Battle grew up reading The Book of Chidani, cherishing stories about the fabled kingdom that cut itself off from the world to save the Igbo people from danger. Passed down over generations, the Book is Cameron’s only connection to his parents who disappeared one fateful night, two years ago. 
Ever since, his grandmother has kept the Book locked away, but it calls to Cameron. When he and his best friends Zion and Aliyah decide to open it again, they are magically transported to Chidani. Instead of a land of beauty and wonder, they find a kingdom in extreme danger, as the Queen’s sister seeks to destroy the barrier between worlds. The people of Chidani have been waiting for the last Descendant to return and save them . . . is Cameron ready to be the hero they need? 

Inspired by West African and Igbo history and mythology, this adventurous middle-grade fantasy debut perfect for fans of Aru Shah and Tristan Strong celebrates the triumphs and challenges of a boy finding his truth path to greatness.

No Filter and Other Lies by Crystal Maldonado (ISBN-13: 9780823447183 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 02/01/2022, Ages 14-17)

You should know, right now, that I’m a liar. 

They’re usually little lies. Tiny lies. Baby lies. Not so much lies as lie adjacent

But they’re still lies. 

Twenty one-year-old Max Monroe has it all: beauty, friends, and a glittering life filled with adventure. With tons of followers on Instagram, her picture-perfect existence seems eminently enviable. 

Except it’s all fake. 

Max is actually 16-year-old Kat Sanchez, a quiet and sarcastic teenager living in drab Bakersfield, California. Nothing glamorous in her existence—just sprawl, bad house parties, a crap school year, and the awkwardness of dealing with her best friend Hari’s unrequited love.

But while Kat’s life is far from perfect, she thrives as Max: doling out advice, sharing beautiful photos, networking with famous influencers, even making a real friend in a follower named Elena. The closer Elena and “Max” get—texting, Snapping, and even calling—the more Kat feels she has to keep up the façade. 

But when one of Max’s posts goes ultra-viral and gets back to the very person she’s been stealing photos from, her entire world – real and fake — comes crashing down around her. She has to figure out a way to get herself out of the huge web of lies she’s created without hurting the people she loves. 

But it might already be too late.

Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh, Yuko Ota, J.R. Doyle (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781419749575 Publisher: Amulet Paperbacks Publication date: 02/08/2022, Ages 14-18)

A human and human-presenting AI slowly become friends—and maybe more—in this moving YA graphic novel

In a near future, augmentation and AI changed everything and nothing. Indira is a human girl who has been cybernetically augmented after a tragic accident, and Fawn is one of the first human-presenting AI. They have the same internship at a gallery, but neither thinks much of the other’s photography. But after a huge public blowout, their mentor gives them an ultimatum: work together on a project or leave her gallery forever. Grudgingly, the two begin to collaborate, and what comes out of it is astounding and revealing for both of them. Pixels of You is about the slow transformation of a rivalry to a friendship to something more as Indira and Fawn navigate each other, the world around them—and what it means to be an artist and a person.

Wingbearer by Marjorie Liu, Teny Issakhanian (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780062741158 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/01/2022, Ages 8-12)

A young girl must stop a threat to her magical world in this epic graphic novel from New York Timesbestselling author Marjorie Liu and remarkable debut illustrator Teny Issakhanian.

Zuli is extraordinary—she just doesn’t realize it yet. Raised by mystical bird spirits in the branches of the Great Tree, she’s never ventured beyond this safe haven. She’s never had to. Until now.

When a sinister force threatens the life-giving magic of the tree, Zuli, along with her guardian owl, Frowly, must get to the root of it. So begins an adventure bigger than anything Zuli could’ve ever imagined—one that will bring her, along with some newfound friends, face-to-face with an ancient dragon, the so-called Witch-Queen, and most surprisingly of all: her true identity.

This captivating middle grade graphic novel, the first of a series, is perfect for fans of the Amulet books and the Wings of Fire series.

A Junior Library Guild Selection

A Thousand Steps into Night by Traci Chee (ISBN-13: 9780358469988 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/01/2022, Ages 12-18)

From New York Times bestselling author and National Book Award finalist, Traci Chee, comes a Japanese-influenced fantasy brimming with demons, adventure, and plans gone awry.
 
In the realm of Awara, where gods, monsters, and humans exist side by side, Miuko is an ordinary girl resigned to a safe, if uneventful, existence as an innkeeper’s daughter. But when Miuko is cursed and begins to transform into a demon with a deadly touch, she embarks on a quest to reverse the curse and return to her normal life. Aided by a thieving magpie spirit and continuously thwarted by a demon prince, Miuko must outfox tricksters, escape demon hunters, and negotiate with feral gods if she wants to make it home again. But with her transformation comes power and freedom she never even dreamed of, and she’ll have to decide if saving her soul is worth trying to cram herself back into an ordinary life that no longer fits her… and perhaps never did.

And They Lived . . . by Steven Salvatore (ISBN-13: 9781547608195 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 03/08/2022, Ages 14-17)

From the author of Can’t Take That Away comes a sex-positive, fairytale-inspired YA novel that celebrates first love and self-acceptance, perfect for fans of What If It’s Us

“My heart didn’t stand a chance. I loved it from once upon a time all the way to its joyfully complexever after.” – New York Times bestselling author Becky Albertalli

Chase Arthur is a budding animator and hopeless romantic obsessed with Disney films and finding his true love, but he’s plagued with the belief that he’s not enough for anyone: he’s recovering from an eating disorder and suffers from body dysmorphia fueled by his father, and can’t quite figure out his gender identity. When Chase starts his freshman year of college, he has to navigate being away from home and missing his sister, finding his squad, and contending with his ex-best friend Leila who is gunning for the same exclusive mentorship. If only he can pull together a short for the freshman animation showcase at the end of the semester.

Then Chase meets Jack Reid, a pragmatic poet who worships words and longs to experience life outside of his sheltered world. But Chase throws everything into question for Jack, who is still discovering his sexual identity, having grown up in close-knit conservative family. Jack internalized a lot of homophobia from his parents and childhood best friend, who unexpectedly visit campus, which threatens to destroy their relationship. Chase will have to learn to love—and be enough for—himself, while discovering what it means to truly live.

Right Where I Left You by Julian Winters (ISBN-13: 9780593206478 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/15/2022, Ages 12+)

Kacen Callender meets Becky Albertalli in a deliciously geeky best friends-to lovers romance from award-winning author Julian Winters!

School’s out, senior year is over, and Isaac Martin is ready to kick off summer. His last before heading off to college in the fall where he won’t have his best friend, Diego. Where—despite his social anxiety—he’ll be left to make friends on his own. Knowing his time with Diego is limited, Isaac enacts a foolproof plan: snatch up a pair of badges for the epic comic convention, Legends Con, and attend his first ever Teen Pride. Just him and Diego. The way it should be. But when an unexpected run-in with Davi—Isaac’s old crush—distracts him the day tickets go on sale, suddenly he’s two badges short of a perfect summer. Even worse, now he’s left making it up to Diego by hanging with him and his gamer buddies. Decidedly NOT part of the original plan. It’s not all bad, though. Some of Diego’s friends turn out to be pretty cool, and when things with Davi start heating up, Isaac is almost able to forget about his Legends Con blunder. Almost. Because then Diego finds out what really happened that day with Davi, and their friendship lands on thin ice. Isaac assumes he’s upset about missing the convention, but could Diego have other reasons for avoiding Isaac?

Worser by Jennifer Ziegler (ISBN-13: 9780823449569 Publisher: Holiday House Publication date: 03/15/2022, Ages 9-12)

A bullied 12-year-old boy must find a new normal after his mother has a stroke and his life is turned upside down.

William Wyatt Orser, a socially awkward middle schooler, is a wordsmith who, much to his annoyance, acquired the ironically ungrammatical nickname of “Worser” so long ago that few people at school know to call him anything else.

Worser grew up with his mom, a professor of rhetoric and an introvert just like him, in a comfortable routine that involved reading aloud in the evenings, criticizing the grammar of others, ignoring the shabby mess of their house, and suffering the bare minimum of social interactions with others. But recently all that has changed. His mom had a stroke that left her nonverbal, and his Aunt Iris has moved in with her cats, art projects, loud music, and even louder clothes. Home for Worser is no longer a refuge from the unsympathetic world at school that it has been all his life.

Feeling lost, lonely, and overwhelmed, Worser searches for a new sanctuary and ends up finding the Literary Club—a group of kids from school who share his love of words and meet in a used bookstore– something he never dreamed existed outside of his home. Even more surprising to Worser is that the key to making friends is sharing the thing he holds dearest: his Masterwork, the epic word notebook that he has been adding entries to for years. 

But relationships can be precarious, and it is up to Worser to turn the page in his own story to make something that endures so that he is no longer seen as Worser and earns a new nickname, Worder.

The Most Dazzling Girl in Berlin by Kip Wilson ( ISBN-13: 9780358448907 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 03/29/2022, Ages 12-18)

A fascinating historical novel about Hilde, a former orphan, who experiences Berlin on the cusp of World War II and discovers her own voice and sexuality and finds a family when she gets a job at a cabaret, by award-winning author Kip Wilson

After her eighteenth birthday, Hilde, a former orphan in 1930s Berlin, goes out into the world to discover her place in it. But finding a job is hard, at least until she stumbles into Café Lila, a vibrant cabaret full of expressive customers—and Rosa, the club’s waitress and performer. As the café and all who work there embrace Hilde, and she embraces them in turn, she discovers her voice and her own blossoming feelings for Rosa. 

But Berlin is in turmoil. Between the elections, protests in the streets, and the beginning seeds of unrest in Café Lila itself, Hilde will have to decide what’s best for her future . . . and what it means to love a place on the cusp of war.

It’s the End of the World and I’m in My Bathing Suit by Justin A. Reynolds (ISBN-13: 9781338740226 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 04/05/2022, Ages 8-12)

A hilarious new middle-grade from Justin A. Reynolds that asks: What happens when five unsupervised kids face the apocalypse under outrageously silly circumstances?

Twelve-year-old Eddie Gordon Holloway has concocted his most genius plan ever to avoid chores… especially the dreaded L-A-U-N-D-R-Y. If he can wear all the clothes he owns, he’ll only have to do the laundry once during his school break.

On the day of the highly anticipated Beach Bash, Eddie’s monstrous pile of dirty laundry is found by his mom. And Eddie’s day has just taken a turn for the worst. Now he’s stuck at home by himself, missing the bash, and doing his whole pile of laundry. But mid-cycle, the power goes out!

With his first load of laundry wet and the rest of his stuff still filthy, he sets out to explore the seemingly empty neighborhood in his glow-in-the-dark swim trunks, flip-flops, and a beach towel. He soon meets up with other neighborhood kids: newcomer Xavier (who was mid-haircut and has half his head shaved), Eddie’s former friend Sonia (who has spent her entire break trying to beat a video game and was mid-battle with the final boss), and siblings Trey and Sage (who are dealing with major sibling drama).

As they group up to cover more ground and find out what happened, they realize that their families aren’t coming back anytime soon. And as night falls, the crew realizes that they aren’t just the only people left in the neighborhood, they might be the only people left… anywhere.

A Duet for Home by Karina Yan Glaser (ISBN-13: 9780544876408 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/05/2022, Ages 8-12)

From the New York Times best-selling creator of the Vanderbeekers series comes a triumphant tale of friendship, healing, and the power of believing in ourselves told from the perspective of biracial sixth-graders June and Tyrell, two children living in a homeless shelter. As their friendship grows over a shared love of classical music, June and Tyrell confront a new housing policy that puts homeless families in danger.

It’s June’s first day at Huey House, and as if losing her home weren’t enough, she also can’t bring her cherished viola inside. Before the accident last year, her dad saved tip money for a year to buy her viola, and she’s not about to give it up now. Tyrell has been at Huey House for three years and gives June a glimpse of the good things about living there: friendship, hot meals, and a classical musician next door. Can he and June work together to oppose the government, or will families be forced out of Huey House before they are ready?

Days of Infamy: How a Century of Bigotry Led to Japanese American Internment by Lawrence Goldstone (ISBN-13: 9781338722468 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 06/07/2022, Ages 12-18)

In another unrelenting look at the iniquities of the American justice system, Lawrence Goldstone, acclaimed author of Unpunished MurderStolen Justice, and Separate No More, examines the history of racism against Japanese Americans, exploring the territory of citizenship and touching on fears of non-white immigration to the US — with hauntingly contemporary echoes.

On December 7, 1941 — “a date which will live in infamy” — the Japanese navy launched an attack on the American military bases at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The next day, President Franklin Roosevelt declared war on Japan, and the US Army officially entered the Second World War.

Three years later, on December 18, 1944, President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which enabled the Secretary of War to enforce a mass deportation of more than 100,000 Americans to what government officials themselves called “concentration camps.” None of these citizens had been accused of a real crime. All of them were torn from their homes, jobs, schools, and communities, and deposited in tawdry, makeshift housing behind barbed wire, solely for the crime of being of Japanese descent. President Roosevelt declared this community “alien,” — whether they were citizens or not, native-born or not — accusing them of being potential spies and saboteurs for Japan who deserved to have their Constitutional rights stripped away. In doing so, the president set in motion another date which would live in infamy, the day when the US joined the ranks of those Fascist nations that had forcibly deported innocents solely on the basis of the circumstance of their birth.

In 1944 the US Supreme Court ruled, in Korematsu v. United States, that the forcible deportation and detention of Japanese Americans on the basis of race was a “military necessity.” Today it is widely considered one of the worst Supreme Court decisions of all time. But Korematsu was not an isolated event. In fact, the Court’s racist ruling was the result of a deep-seated anti-Japanese, anti-Asian sentiment running all the way back to the California Gold Rush of the mid-1800s. Starting from this pivotal moment, Constitutional law scholar Lawrence Goldstone will take young readers through the key events of the 19th and 20th centuries leading up to the fundamental injustice of Japanese American internment. Tracing the history of Japanese immigration to America and the growing fear whites had of losing power, Goldstone will raise deeply resonant questions of what makes an American an American, and what it means for the Supreme Court to stand as the “people’s” branch of government.

Book Review: Stuntboy, in the Meantime by Jason Reynolds, illustrated by Raúl the Third

Publisher’s description

From Newbery Medal honoree and #1 New York Times bestselling author Jason Reynolds comes a hilarious, hopeful, and action-packed middle grade novel about the greatest young superhero you’ve never heard of, filled with illustrations by Raúl the Third!

Portico Reeves’s superpower is making sure all the other superheroes—like his parents and two best friends—stay super. And safe. Super safe. And he does this all in secret. No one in his civilian life knows he’s actually…Stuntboy!

But his regular Portico identity is pretty cool, too. He lives in the biggest house on the block, maybe in the whole city, which basically makes it a castle. His mom calls where they live an apartment building. But a building with fifty doors just in the hallways is definitely a castle. And behind those fifty doors live a bunch of different people who Stuntboy saves all the time. In fact, he’s the only reason the cat, New Name Every Day, has nine lives.

All this is swell except for Portico’s other secret, his not-so-super secret. His parents are fighting allthe time. They’re trying to hide it by repeatedly telling Portico to go check on a neighbor “in the meantime.” But Portico knows “meantime” means his parents are heading into the Mean Time which means they’re about to get into it, and well, Portico’s superhero responsibility is to save them, too—as soon as he figures out how.

Only, all these secrets give Portico the worry wiggles, the frets, which his mom calls anxiety. Plus, like all superheroes, Portico has an arch-nemesis who is determined to prove that there is nothing super about Portico at all.

Amanda’s thoughts

This was another book I sought out as I worked on my article for School Library Journal on mental health rep in middle grade books (look for that March 2022!). As far as I can tell, there are not really a whole lot of middle grade books that address the mental health of boys, period, so when I saw this title, about a Black boy dealing with anxiety, I tracked it down right away. Given it’s written by Jason Reynolds and illustrated by Raul the Third, I figured it would be great. And it was.

Portico has “the frets,” as he calls them. The rest of us would probably call them an anxiety disorder. As someone who has an anxiety disorder with panic attacks, I sure recognized how quickly Portico’s mind would leap from “this thing might not be okay” to “AUGH! QUICK! MOVE! ACT! PANIC!” Portico’s parents are splitting up, something he doesn’t particularly understand until quite far into the book. But all of their constant arguing is taking its toll on him, causing those frets to crop up more and more frequently. He keeps busy and distracted by running around his apartment complex with his best friend, Zola, having little adventures while acting like Stuntboy, a kind of superhero who exists to keep others protected (again, hey there, recognizable anxiety). His building is full of larger-than-life characters who keep things interesting, but underlying everything are those blasted frets, just waiting to get in Portico’s way.

Not only is the story a total hit (and such a necessary depiction of a young Black boy navigating anxiety), but the format itself and all of the art make this exceedingly appealing. This fully illustrated novel includes comic book panels as a story within the story, little commercial break asides, double page spreads, and LOTS of dynamic action. A fantastic read with wide appeal. I look forward to more adventures of Stuntboy!

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534418165
Publisher: Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books
Publication date: 11/30/2021
Age Range: 7 – 12 Years

How to Write a Book in Eight Years: On Belief, Persistence, and (Not) Giving Up, a guest post by Rebecca Kim Wells

In 2013 I started writing a book. I’d written one before, which I’d queried agents with unsuccessfully and then shelved unceremoniously. But my new project—this one was the one.

The story featured Lena, a lonely girl whose touch could kill, who ventured into a deadly forest to break her curse. It was dark and fantastical and had more than a few roots in fairy tale. I loved it completely. Over the next two years I revised and polished, and in 2015 was lucky enough to sign with a literary agent.

I revised the book even more with the help of my agent, and in the fall we sent it on submission to publishers. Hooray! I thought. This book, the one I believed in with my whole heart, was going to be published.

Not so fast. Over the next several months we received rejection after rejection, the sort that was kind but unhelpful when it came to taking the book through yet another revision. After a while, my agent suggested that I put this book away for the moment and write something else.

I was devastated. I still believed in the book, but no one wanted to publish it—and after several rounds of revision, I didn’t know how else to approach the story. So I cried (a lot) and followed my agent’s advice. I put it away and slowly moved on. Over the next few years I wrote the books that became my debut duology, Shatter the Sky and Storm the Earth. But in the back of my mind, Lena was always waiting. And last year, I finally got the chance to return to her.

The first spark that became Briar Girls was my love for fairy tales. In 2015 I was trying to create an epic fairy tale mashup. How many characters could I jam into a plot and still hold it all together? I started with Rapunzel and the witch who cursed her, then threw in Sleeping Beauty, Jack (and the Beanstalk), Hansel and Gretel, and made up some of my own tales for good measure. But when I returned to the book in 2020 I had changed, as a reader, a writer, and a person. I looked at Lena’s story with new eyes. It was angrier than I remembered, as well as more personal, more complicated. And I finally felt I knew how to get it right.

Lena was the heart of this story—she always had been. Her hope, her anguish. So I narrowed my focus, stripping out fairy tales and sharpening the few that remained. I homed in on Lena’s wounds and fleshed out the people she encounters, deepening the relationships she forms. I set the stage for Lena to take up space, to be fierce and unapologetically furious, and as I did, the story bloomed. Now Briar Girls is a love letter to fairy tales and complicated relationships, and to growing up, trusting yourself, and making your own path—and it’s finally a published book.

One could say everything that went into Briar Girls was there from the beginning, that I only needed to grow as a writer to be able to pull it all together. That’s possible. I hope I grew as a writer over five years. But there is also an alternate universe where I left this book on the shelf, gathering dust. Where my third published book is something completely different. And the difference between these universes is not my ability and growth as a writer or what story elements existed when—it is belief, and persistence.

I believed Briar Girls should be published, in a way that I hadn’t believed in my first manuscript. The storywas never gone—it was always waiting. And I was persistent enough to pull it back into the light even after five years on the shelf.

Every writer seeking publication for their work needs these two qualities. Belief is what sets you on the path of late-night scribbles and blocking out time on your schedule to write when no one is waiting on that work but you. Persistence is what keeps you going in the face of rejection (after rejection after rejection).

I’ll be honest. There were many times when I lost my belief. When publication seemed so out of reach that I almost did give up. But for every day where I didn’t believe, there was at least one where I did. And every time I gave up, I (eventually) decided to push on—past over one hundred queries before signing with my agent, and dozens of publisher rejections before signing my first book deal. The true secret to becoming an author isn’t that you have to believe in yourself every day. Just enough days. Just more often than not. Just enough that you keep getting up, even when you get knocked down.

To every writer toiling with only belief and persistence to fuel them, I salute you. May your words flow smoothly and your stories soar. And may you know, like I did, when to put a book on a shelf—and when to bring it back out into the light.

Meet the author

Rebecca Kim Wells writes books full of magic and fury (and often dragons). Her debut novel Shatter the Sky was a New England Book Award Finalist, an ALA Rainbow Book List selection, an Indies Introduce selection, and a Kids’ Indie Next Pick. She is also the author of Storm the Earth and Briar Girls.

Links:
Website: https://rebeccawellswrites.com/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/rebeccawriting
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/rebeccawriting/

About Briar Girls

The Cruel Prince meets A Curse So Dark and Lonely in this epic reimagining of “The Sleeping Beauty” that follows a teen girl on a quest to wake a sleeping princess in an enchanted forest, while searching for the truth behind her own deadly curse.

Lena has a secret: the touch of her skin can kill. Cursed by a witch before she was born, Lena has always lived in fear and isolation. But after a devastating mistake, she and her father are forced to flee to a village near the Silence, a mysterious forest with a reputation for luring people into the trees, never to be seen again…​

Until the night an enigmatic girl stumbles out of the Silence and into Lena’s sheltered world. Miranda comes from the Gather, a city in the forest brimming with magic. She is on a quest to wake a sleeping princess believed to hold the key to liberating the Gather from its tyrannical ruler—and she offers Lena a bargain. If Lena assists her on her journey, Miranda will help her break the curse.

Mesmerized by Miranda and her promise of a new life, Lena jumps at the chance. But the deeper into the Silence she goes, the more she suspects she’s been lied to—about her family’s history, her curse, and her future. As the shadows close in, Lena must choose who to trust and decide whether it’s more important to have freedom…or power.

ISBN-13: 9781534488427
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers
Publication date: 11/16/2021
Age Range: 14 – 18 Years

Book Review: The Golden Hour by Niki Smith

Publisher’s description

From the author of The Deep & Dark Blue comes a tender graphic novel, perfect for our time, that gently explores themes of self-discovery, friendship, healing from tragedy, and hope for a better tomorrow.

Struggling with anxiety after witnessing a harrowing instance of gun violence, Manuel Soto copes through photography, using his cell-phone camera to find anchors that keep him grounded. His days are a lonely, latchkey monotony until he’s teamed with his classmates, Sebastian and Caysha, for a group project.

Sebastian lives on a grass-fed cattle farm outside of town, and Manuel finds solace in the open fields and in the antics of the newborn calf Sebastian is hand-raising. As Manuel aides his new friends in their preparations for the local county fair, he learns to open up, confronts his deepest fears, and even finds first love.

This title will be simultaneously available in hardcover.

Amanda’s thoughts

I’m working on an article for School Library Journal on mental health depictions in middle grade fiction. It was not all that long ago that I would have struggled to build a large list of books that accurately and compassionately address mental health. But as I worked, I found myself having to limit my book list to the past couple of years as a way to begin to pare down the long list of books I was interested in considering. What a great problem to have. I was fortunate enough to get a copy of this book for that article and wanted to talk a little about it here, too.

To say that I was moved by this beautiful and tender look at trauma, healing, and hope is an understatement. I was reading it at my desk at school and at one point looked around at all the kids sitting around reading and, knowing how much stuff has to be going on in so many of their lives, thought, I wish you these supportive and loving relationships. I wish you this kind of healing.

Manuel, who was present when his art teacher was attacked at school, is, understandably, having a really hard time clearing his mind of what he saw. Thankfully, he is in therapy and has some pretty great grounding techniques to help when he has derealization episodes. But it’s really difficult, even with help, to not feel afraid so much of the time, to not be triggered. When he makes two new friends, he finds further comfort in their steady, understanding presence. Together, they all work on projects and their friendship grows (and with Sebastian, it’s clear that there may be more than just friendship there). They help Manuel find grounding moments and make sure he knows they are there to listen whenever he may want to talk about it and are there to be supportive and steadying no matter what.

Manuel shows that healing from trauma is not quick or linear, and that’s okay. He shows the complexity of living day-to-day life riddled with moments of extreme distress. And more than anything, Manuel shows that vulnerability doesn’t have to be scary and that there is hope and joy even in the darkest and most unsettling of times. A deeply affecting read.

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780316540339
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 11/23/2021
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: A Man Called Horse: John Horse and the Black Seminole Underground Railroad by Glennette Tilley Turner

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.

Abrams. Sept. 2021. 112p. Tr $16.99. ISBN 9781419749339.

Gr 6-9–This fascinating look at the complex life of Black Seminole leader John Horse, a warrior, diplomat, and champion for his people, follows his tireless search for freedom, safety, and home. Foundational background is given about Seminole Indians and Black Seminoles (descendants of Seminoles and free Blacks and escaped slaves) as well as the First Seminole War, the Indian Removal Act, and the Second Seminole War. It was during the Second Seminole War that John Horse, a skilled negotiator, interpreter, guide, and advisor, began to rise to leadership. Horses’s life and travels are detailed as he sought peace and security for his people through the southern United States, and eventually Mexico. Escapes, deportations, challenges, promises, possibilities, and perilous situations marked Horse’s quest. He worked determinedly to find a new home for Black Seminoles, who had unresolved and changing statuses during this time of the mid-to-late 1800s. Horse was constantly negotiating to encourage protection, treaties, land grants, and autonomy for his people.

Engravings, photographs, illustrations, and painting adorn most of the full-color pages, with chapters providing just enough information to feel thorough without feeling overwhelming. Well laid-out and engaging, this biography shows the significant impact John Horse had on the rights, recognition, freedom, and protection of Black Seminoles, who were considered slaves by Americans and Seminoles. The volume wraps up with additional information on battles, places of refuge, rescues, and expeditions. A time line, author’s note, chapter notes, bibliography, and index round out the book.

VERDICT An important examination of a historical figure who hasn’t been featured that often in books for young readers.