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Hope in the Time of Apocalypse, a guest post by Jodi Meadows

“There is no Incursion.” 

“Think of it as a cycle. A natural cycle of good and evil pushing against each other. Evil may be pushing now, but good will push back.” 

“We do not need to worry about another Incursion. Stop listening to the paranoid masses. I’ve heard no trustworthy reports of malice or rancor or any other abnormalities whatsoever. People are safe, and you must stop encouraging their fears.”

In NIGHTRENDER, my newest book, an Incursion is a cataclysmic event in which monsters (rancor) and dark magic (malice) break free from their prison and lay waste to the world. It can be stopped—prevented, even—if the signs are noticed in time, and if the Nightrender is summoned. For thousands of years, this immortal champion kept the three kingdoms just this side of catastrophe.

But four hundred years ago, something changed, and the kings and queens of Salvation tried to erase the Nightrender. They burned the books about her, all the ancient records of her deeds. They outlawed discussion of her, save for whispers. They forbade anyone summoning her, denying that they might ever need her again. 

Decade by decade, century by century, people chose to forget. Now, they view her as a terrifying winged figure, a dangerous being who sleeps in crumbling tower. They tell only one story—that of her last, horrible act, the Red Dawn.

But an Incursion is coming. It might be upon them already. 

Dark omens are everywhere. Strange phenomena occur throughout the land: gravity vanishing, time running backwards, and startling die-offs of animals. The Malstop—the magical barrier meant to trap the darkness—is weakening, as evidenced by the flickers and thin spots. Soon, it will fail, and all that malice will come spilling over the three kingdoms.

The signs of Incursions are always obvious. And what happens during one—that isn’t a mystery, since there is an entire record of Incursions going back thousands of years. How deadly they were. How the battles were fought. How close the world came to collapse. 

But since the Red Dawn, the kings and queens of all three kingdoms are locked in a troubling pattern of ignoring the threat. They refuse to do what is necessary to end this calamity before it’s too late. 

Instead, they spend their time fighting, plotting ways to hurt one another, and doing everything they can to deny that their world is about to end. In fact, they would deny that their actions have had any kind of effect on the next Incursion. 

Does any of this sound familiar?

Over and over, I find myself looking at climate change through the lens of fantasy, using magic and dragons and Incursions to tell the story. It’s a heavy topic in any world, and I’ll be the first to say that I don’t have all the answers—not even close. But I am a person who lives here, who grew up listening to reports about acid rain and holes in the ozone layer. I am someone who likes clean air and water. And I’m someone who wants my young readers to look toward the future with hope, not fear.

Recently, I spent several hours knitting and watching a marathon of videos about the geological history of Earth. (This is totally normal behavior, right?) The topics went from continental drift to what creatures lived when, and—as naturally comes up when discussing the billions of years our little planet has been floating in space—the mass extinction events that devastated life everywhere thanks to meteors, volcanic activity, and (notably) climate change. 

That may seem pretty dark, spending my free time studying the major mass extinction events, but in a way, I find it comforting. This planet has been through a lot, but you and I are here because life survived multiple apocalypses. Chances are good that life will continue to endure. And regardless of whether we are here to see what happens next, our beautiful, resilient world will spin on. (At least until the sun begins to die, at which point it will swell, engulfing Earth. But that’s about 5 billion years away, so no need to worry just yet.) 

But hey, let’s not end on that dim note. Here, in the real world, we’re doing a much better job of acknowledging the problem. And we’re making measurable improvements to the way we treat our planet. And in NIGHTRENDER, it is not a spoiler to say that one person in power truly is concerned about the coming Incursion. He sees the signs. He knows the Nightrender must be summoned. 

And so he does it.

So perhaps there is a reason for the people of Salvation to have hope after all.

Meet the author

Jodi Meadows wants to be a ferret when she grows up and she has no self-control when it comes to yarn, ink, or outer space. Still, she manages to write books. She is the author of the INCARNATE Trilogy, the ORPHAN QUEEN Duology, the FALLEN ISLES Trilogy (HarperCollins/Katherine Tegen), and the NIGHTRENDER duology (Holiday House). She is also a co-author of  New York Times bestsellers MY LADY JANE, MY PLAIN JANE, and other books in the Lady Janies series (HarperTeen). She lives in rural Virginia. Visit her at www.jodimeadows.com

Links:

Website: www.jodimeadows.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/unicornwarlord/

TikTok: @UnicornWarlord

Newsletter: http://eepurl.com/fpZc2

Twitter: https://twitter.com/jodimeadows

About Nightrender

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?

ISBN-13: 9780823448685
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 01/11/2022
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Something Old, Something New: The Magic of Reimagining Fairytales, a guest post by Leslie Vedder

A glass slipper abandoned on a flight of stairs. A handful of magic beans for an old cow. A poison apple. A sleeping curse. A rope of golden hair…

Each one of these images is almost a story by itself—a key that unlocks a torrent of memories and feelings with a single twist. That’s the power of fairytales to me. You know them intimately, even if you don’t quite know from where.

Fairytales are all around us, like a language we learn to speak from very young. They’re in bedtime stories, movies, ballets, children’s plays, and picture books. A fairytale isn’t a singular, static story, but a rich tapestry of interwoven strands.

Maybe your first Cinderella was the Disney version, or maybe she was Gail Carson Levine’s delightful Ella Enchanted. Maybe she was Brandy with Whitney Houston as her epic fairy godmother, or Drew Barrymore meeting Leonardo da Vinci. Or maybe she was the quirky Cinder Edna as imagined by Ellen Jackson.

Maybe she went Into the Woods, or tried out high school, or found herself living with a whole host of other characters in the town of Storybrooke. Cinderella is all these things and more.

When I’m coming up with a retelling, it often starts for me with a question. How did Robin Hood get started with all that thieving? Could there ever be a practical use for a glass slipper? Or in the case of my Sleeping Beauty retelling, The Bone Spindle, how do you fall in love with someone who’s fast asleep?

That last question was the source of quite a bit of amusement for me and my wife. She is my editor, my first reader, my biggest fan, and the person I drag out on walks to talk out all my ideas. It was during one of our many, many laps around the park that the idea to genderflip the Sleeping Beauty story came up and the first seeds of The Bone Spindle were born.

A prince who had been sleeping for a hundred years would practically be ancient history, a relic—and who better to dig that up than a pair of girl treasure hunters? Right away, I loved the idea of one of the girls, Fi, being a bookish, intrepid historian who doesn’t believe in anything as impractical as true love. I couldn’t see her kissing some prince without ever holding a single conversation with him…so my new question became, how do you meet some guy who’s going to be asleep for most of the story?

This is where the fun of fractured fairytales really kicks in. In a world of magic and curses and witches, anything is possible. Fi pricks her finger on a bone spindle and finds herself stuck with the spirit of the sleeping prince Briar Rose, whom only she can see. Meanwhile her partner, Shane, styles herself the huntsman for hire and gets tangled up with a girl in a red cloak. You know there’s going to be a wolf in that story!

Inevitably, there’s always some part of the original fairytale that doesn’t fit. In my Sleeping Beauty story, one of the tricky elements was the three fairies—they seemed a little too whimsical for the darker world I was creating, full of treasure hunters and mercenaries and vicious Witch Hunters. Still, I didn’t want to lose the idea of these women of great power. So instead of fairies, I ended up with the Three Great Witches, who felt more at home in this story of a fallen kingdom rich with magic and lore.

Something old, something new. That’s half the fun of a retelling, I think—the recognizable elements draw you in, while the new elements keep it fresh and surprising. Fairytales are old friends, and I can’t wait to meet them over and over again!

Here are a few my favorite fairytale and folklore retellings!

ASH by Malinda Lo is a gorgeous f/f Cinderella retelling that follows a young girl, Ash, who gets tangled up with dark fairy magic and must escape both her evil stepmother and the dangerous fairy who’s laid a claim on her—all while falling hard for the King’s Huntress. Full of determination, magic bargains, and an entrancing love story!

CINDERELLA IS DEAD by Kalynn Bayron is a stunning dark retelling set in a world where the original Cinderella is long dead and the annual ball is no dream, but a nightmare. Sophia is a fierce, queer heroine who sees how broken and painful her world is and rises up to change it. Mortal peril, f/f love, and a fierce heroine in a ball gown!

GIRLS MADE OF SNOW AND GLASS by Melissa Bashardoust is a Snow White retelling that entwines the stories of Snow White and the evil queen, unspooling them to reveal the haunting truth of how power, control, and grief are often at the heart of tragedies. Princess Lynet (our Snow White) is also in an f/f love story full of heart!

LEGENDBORN by Tracy Deonn is a thrilling take on the Arthurian legend that completely reimagines the Knights of the Round Table as a modern-day secret society descended from the figures of legend. It follows Bree, a young Black girl with a hidden connection to these Legendborn, as she fights for a place in this ancient rigid order in a book full of bold, powerful, expressions of love and grief.  

THESE FEATHERED FLAMES by Alexandra Overy is a queer reimagining of the Russian firebird myth, retold from the perspective of two sisters whose long separation ends when they’re brought together by the mystery of their mother’s death. Asya is the fiery, passionate incarnation of the mystic Firebird who must uphold the balance of magic. Her sister Izaveta, who is next in line for the throne, is brilliant, powerful, and caught in a tangled web of intrigue and schemes.

DAUGHTER OF SPARTA by Claire M. Andrews takes on the Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo but turns it completely on its head, making Daphne into a warrior of Sparta on a journey with Apollo to stop a calamity—while also twisting in few more Greek myths along the way. Daphne takes the lead in an adventure full of heart-pounding danger and equally heart-pounding love scenes!

Finally, one that should definitely be on your list for later this year: ONE FOR ALL by Lillie Lainoff is a genderbent Musketeers retelling with ownvoices disability rep that follows Tania, a fierce heroine with POTS, on her journey to become a musketeer and uncover the truth of her father’s death. I was lucky enough to read an advance copy, and this is a sisterhood to die for!

Meet the author

 Leslie Vedder is a YA author who loves girl heroes and adventurers. She grew up on fantasy books, anime, fanfiction, and the Lord of the Rings movies, and met her true love in high school choir. She graduated from San Francisco State University with a B.A. in creative writing, and currently lives in Colorado with her wife and two spoiled house cats. Learn more at https://www.leslievedder.com.  

About The Bone Spindle

Sleeping Beauty meets Indiana Jones in this thrilling fairytale retelling for fans of Sorcery of Thorns and The Cruel Prince.

Fi is a bookish treasure hunter with a knack for ruins and riddles, who definitely doesn’t believe in true love.

Shane is a tough-as-dirt girl warrior from the north who likes cracking skulls, pretty girls, and doing things her own way.

Briar Rose is a prince under a sleeping curse, who’s been waiting a hundred years for the kiss that will wake him.

Cursed princes are nothing but ancient history to Fi—until she pricks her finger on a bone spindle while exploring a long-lost ruin. Now she’s stuck with the spirit of Briar Rose until she and Shane can break the century-old curse on his kingdom.

Dark magic, Witch Hunters, and bad exes all stand in her way—not to mention a mysterious witch who might wind up stealing Shane’s heart, along with whatever else she’s after. But nothing scares Fi more than the possibility of falling in love with Briar Rose.

Set in a lush world inspired by beloved fairytales, The Bone Spindle is a fast-paced young adult fantasy full of adventure, romance, found family, and snark.

ISBN-13: 9780593325827
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/11/2022
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

On Writing Multiple Points of View, a guest post by Dana Swift

Picking the point of view for your story is one of the first and most important steps. It’s also one of the most exciting. For me point of view, more than any other literary element, connects to every aspect of craft. From what figures of speech your character uses all the way to overarching plot and structure, point of view is infused in the narrative.

When I set my sights on becoming an author, I learned about the craft behind point of view. How a writer can hide things from the reader, let readers in on a secret while the characters are kept in the dark, amplify a scene, make a character more relatable, or weave together multiple plotlines. I figured out how it worked. I just had to decide who was telling my next story.

Writing Cast in Firelight

When writing my debut, CAST IN FIRELIGHT, I immediately set off to write a dual point of view novel. At the heart of fantasy world full of action and magic there is a romance between my two main characters, Adraa and Jatin. Much of their love story centered on them falling in love not knowing who the other is. The dual point of view narrative let me dive into that mistaken identity plotline and showcase how they were each thinking and feeling about the other.

The romance was strengthened through my choice because I wanted the book to be as romantic and character driven as it was fantastical, and plot driven. If you think about multiple points of view as an extension of story structure instead of merely character selection, then you can dive deeper into genre expectations and what readers want. In CAST IN FIRELIGHT I focused in on the combination of romance and action since I wanted the book to be fun escapism.

Writing Bound by Firelight

When it came time to write the sequel, BOUND BY FIRELIGHT, I knew I wanted to keep Adraa and Jatin’s dual point of view because the story had become both of theirs. To suddenly cut out one or switch points of view entirely would have felt incomplete.

But instead of focusing on the multiple points of view as mostly a romantic devise, I used a more traditional fantasy narrative in which the two characters had their own plotlines. So instead of picking the best character point of view to hold a scene I was writing based on weaving two interlaced storylines. It held a new challenge for sure and in my opinion amped up the action and pacing.

Yes, point of view can be a simple choice. You can have one point of view or ten. But it’s more than a vehicle to get inside a character’s head. Point of view can shape and enhance the tropes, themes, and even the genre you are trying to execute.

Tips for writing multiple points of view:

  1. You might want to outline since multiple storylines are always harder than one and you will want to make sure the pacing isn’t too slow or too fast.
  2. You can find a character’s unique voice through writing and crafting your story so don’t be afraid to get the structure of multiple points of view plotted or drafted and then you can go back and edit to make sure each character sounds as they should.
  3. Don’t be afraid to write out of order if that is part of your process.
  4. Have a scene or chapter break when you need one. And I advise changing points of view with those breaks so as not to confuse readers.
  5. This is advice for all writing, but I think it applies well to multiple points of view storytelling. Arrive late and leave early. It’s always good when writing scenes to get to the heart of the scene as soon as possible and move to the next once you’ve captured that moment.
  6. Read in your genre to learn the purpose and common uses of multiple points of view. For instance, romance uses multiple points of view very differently than epic fantasy or thrillers.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Oak Moon Photography

Dana Swift started making up fantasy worlds when she was eleven years old and hasn’t stopped since. She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where she earned degrees in English and Advertising. While in college, Dana competed as a saber fencer and learned a thing or two about fighting, parrying and how it feels to fall in love with your sparring partner. She currently lives with said husband in Miami, Florida. Her YA Fantasy debut, Cast in Firelight will be published by Delacorte Press January 2021 and the sequel, Bound by Firelight, January 2022.

Social media links:

Twitter: @swift_dana

Instagram: @danaswiftbooks

TikTok: @danaswiftbooks

Website: www.danaswiftbooks.com

About Bound by Firelight

The heart-pounding sequel to Cast in Firelight, perfect for fans of epic, sweepingly romantic fantasy by Sabaa Tahir, Susan Dennard, and Mary E. Pearson.

After a magical eruption devastates the kingdom of Belwar, royal heir Adraa is falsely accused of masterminding the destruction and forced to stand trial in front of her people, who see her as a monster. Adraa’s punishment? Imprisonment in the Dome, an impenetrable, magic-infused fortress filled with Belwar’s nastiest criminals—many of whom Adraa put there herself. And they want her to pay.

Jatin, the royal heir to Naupure, has been Adraa’s betrothed, nemesis, and fellow masked vigilante . . . but now he’s just a boy waiting to ask her the biggest question of their lives. First, though, he’s going to have to do the impossible: break Adraa out of the Dome. And he won’t be able to do it without help from the unlikeliest of sources—a girl from his past with a secret that could put them all at risk.

Time is running out, and the horrors Adraa faces in the Dome are second only to the plot to destabilize and destroy their kingdoms. But Adraa and Jatin have saved the world once already. . . . Now, can they save themselves?

ISBN-13: 9780593124253
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 01/18/2022
Series: Wickery #2
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Book Review: Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes

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.

Bloomsbury. Dec. 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781547607105.

Gr 9 Up–A modern-day gay teen time travels back to 1985 and wonders if he can help change the past without changing his future. Cuban American Luis Gonzalez, student body president, staff favorite, theater kid, principal’s secretary, and general busybody, has an irrepressibly large personality. A day student at a small, conservative boarding school, opinionated and confident Luis is out and proud. Luis’s big hope is to make his school allow people of any gender identity to go to functions as dates, mainly so he can attend prom with his boyfriend Cheng. But before that can happen, he gets knocked out and lands in 1985, suddenly attending school with his future parents. He’s less concerned with solving the problem of how he got there than with what he can do to solve the problems his new 1985-era friends encounter, especially when it comes to homophobia and the fate of his parents’ classmate Chaz. Interfering might change Chaz’s future for the better, but what will it mean for Luis’s own fate? The writing is snappy and conversational, but Luis’s voice sometimes comes off as “teenagery” in a way that feels forced. This engaging read is full of honesty, vulnerability, and truly funny moments, as well as equal parts bravery and potentially dangerous foolishness. Self-centered and prone to acting first and thinking later, Luis gains insight into the present through this trip to the past.

VERDICT An immersive story offering a unique look at second chances, acceptance, and progress.

Three Resources That Shaped the World of THE IVORY KEY, a guest post by Akshaya Raman

When I set out to write THE IVORY KEY, I wanted to write a fun fantasy adventure book with puzzles and treasure hunts and a fractured family. But as I began to infuse more elements of my own culture into the book, it became clear that I was going to be digging farther into India’s vast and fascinating history than I ever imagined. THE IVORY KEY isn’t a historical fantasy, but a lot of elements, small and large, did in fact come from the real world. Not all of what I researched actually made it into the book, but I wanted to share three resources that were invaluable in helping me build the world and story of THE IVORY KEY.

The Code Book by Simon Singh

When I was around 11 or 12 years old, visiting my grandparents in India, I found a book left behind by one of my uncles. I’d grown up reading the mystery books my parents passed down to me (Nancy Drew, Sherlock Holmes, The Famous Five etc.) so of course I was immediately intrigued by something called The Code Book. The title alone seemed to promise curious secrets hidden within its pages, so I grabbed it and cracked it open at once. I didn’t realize at first that it was a nonfiction book detailing the history of cryptography, but it was so entrancing that I read the whole thing that summer, even though a lot of the historical context was lost on me at that time.

I didn’t realize how much of an impression this book left on me until I started working on THE IVORY KEY and I could recall with startling accuracy several passages on codes from this book. Some of the puzzles the siblings find—including a polyalphabetic substitution cipher—were things I originally learned about from The Code Book. And since then, I’ve reread it several times, incorporating additional details into THE IVORY KEY duology.

Sanrachna: Magic of Ancient Architecture

On a random day several years ago, as I was scrolling through Netflix, I stumbled onto a collection of docuseries created by Epic TV, an Indian television channel. I’d been spending hours researching Indian history online, trying to find answers to specific questions like “what did the inside of this fort look like?” or “what kind of food was common in this region in this time period?” I wanted to know these details so I could more accurately build the world of Ashoka, and I’d been struggling to find the specificity I wanted. And I was so shocked to discover that there were entire series devoted to answering exactly these questions, in a visual format, with explanations from actual historians and scholars.

There are several shows that I loved on Epic, but one that stood out to me was Sanrachna, which showcased the architecture of India. It delves not only into the history, but the engineering behind the constructions, explaining how ancient architects used science to naturally cool down buildings during the hot months or used the understanding of how sound travels to devise a clever alarm system where a small noise made in one part of the fort could be heard half a mile away. When I incorporated some of these elements into my world, I explained it away with magic. But the real magic is that these kinds of technological achievements actually existed in the real world centuries ago.

Family members

I wrote a book about a complex family so it feels unfair to not mention the ways in which my own family shaped the story I was trying to tell.

My maternal grandmother is recognized within our family and local community for preserving and chronicling a lot of old Tamil traditions. She is a wealth of knowledge and I loved being able to call her and ask her about archaic practices. She told me stories about fragrant wildflowers that grow on riverbanks, petals laden with tiny snakes that had to be carefully removed before they could be harvested. She told me about nearly forgotten herbal medicines and treatments for snake bites and other injuries and ailments. And she was very patient (and a bit bewildered) as she answered my many questions about the organization and structure of temples and how one might, say, break into one.

But another unexpected resource was a book written by my paternal great-grandfather, TG Aravamuthan, a scholar who studied ancient Indian coins. A few years ago, right as I was starting to work on THE IVORY KEY, my dad ordered a used copy of his grandfather’s book online. To our utter shock and delight, it turned out to be a signed copy—and even more surprisingly, the book talked about the influence of Mediterranean countries on Indian currency. While THE IVORY KEY takes place entirely in Ashoka, a country inspired by ancient India, their western neighbor, Lyria, is inspired by the old Greek and Roman empires. In a strange twist of fate, my great-grandfather had written about the very thing that I was researching at that moment, and I loved incorporating some of the details and motifs he wrote about into the world and currency of Ashoka.

Meet the author

Photo Credit: Emily Gillaspy

Akshaya Raman fell in love with writing when she wrote her first story at the age of ten. Though she graduated from UC Davis with a degree in biology, she gave up pursuing a career in science to write books. She is a co-founder and contributor to Writer’s Block Party, a group blog about writing and publishing, and has served on the planning teams of several book festivals. She lives in the Bay Area with an actual scaredy cat, and in her free time, she enjoys baking, traveling, and watching too much reality TV.

akshayaraman.com

Instagram: @akshraman

Instagram | Twitter

About The Ivory Key

In this epic YA fantasy debut, magic, a prized resource, is the only thing between peace and war. When magic runs out, four estranged royal siblings must find a new source before their country is swallowed by invading forces. The first in an Indian-inspired duology that’s perfect for fans of There Will Come a DarknessThe Gilded Wolves, and We Hunt the Flame.Vira, Ronak, Kaleb, and Riya may be siblings, but they’ve never been close or even liked each other that much. Torn apart by the different paths their lives have taken, only one thing can bring them back together: the search for the Ivory Key, a thing of legend that will lead the way to a new source of magic. Magic is Ashoka’s biggest export and the only thing standing between them and war with the neighboring kingdoms—as long as their enemies don’t find out that the magic mines are nearly depleted.

The siblings all have something to gain from finding the Ivory Key, and even more to lose if they don’t. For Vira, the Ivory Key is the only way to live up to the legacy of her mother, the beloved former maharani. Ronak plans to get out of his impending political marriage by selling the Ivory Key to the highest bidder. Kaleb has been falsely accused of assassinating the former maharani, and this is the only way to clear his name. And Riya needs to prove her loyalty to the Ravens, the group of rebels that wants to take control away from the maharani and give it to the people. With each sibling harboring secrets and conflicting agendas, figuring out a way to work together may be the most difficult task of all. And in a quest this dangerous, working together is the only way to survive.

ISBN-13: 9780358468332
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/04/2022
Series: Ivory Key Duology
Age Range: 12 – 18 Years

Top 25 children’s titles at my school

If you work in an elementary school or are in the children’s department in a public library (or have kids of your own), you might be very familiar with the books on this list. This list reflects the top 25 titles in my elementary school library from September through December of 2021. As our list shows, graphic novels were hot (Raina Telegemeier/BSC and Dav Pilkey could put out a new book every week and kids would still be clamoring for more), and Wimpy Kid and various Minecraft books are still going strong.

Our list is probably very different from lists created in states other than Minnesota, as our list is heavy on books nominated for the Maud Hart Lovelace Award (Minnesota’s “read and vote” award for kids), which got lots of circulations (a fact aided by the pizza party kids who read a certain number of these books are able to earn). The titles on this award list included entries 8, 9, 16, 17, 20, and 22 on our top 25 list.

What was hot at your school (elementary, middle, or high school) this year? Share your lists in our comments or find me on Twitter @CiteSomething. 

  1. [ Book ] Guts Telgemeier, Raina.
  2. [ Book ] Dog Man : Fetch-22 Pilkey, Dav.
  3. [ Book ] Dog Man and Cat Kid Pilkey, Dav,
  4. [ Book ] Cat Kid comic club Pilkey, Dav,
  5. [ Book ] Minecraft combat handbook Milton, Stephanie.
  6. [ Book ] Diary of a Wimpy Kid : The Deep End Kinney, Jeff.
  7. [ Book ] Dog Man : Mothering Heights Pilkey, Dav.
  8. [ Book ] From the Desk of Zoe Washington Marks, Janae.
  9. [ Book ] Inkling Oppel, Kenneth.
  10. [ Book ] Minecraft essential handbook Milton, Stephanie.
  11. [ Book ] Dog Man : Lord of the Fleas Pilkey, Dav,
  12. [ Book ] Ghosts Telgemeier, Raina.
  13. [ Book ] Minecraft construction handbook Needler, Matthew.
  14. [ Book ] Dog Man : For Whom the Ball Rolls Pilkey, Dav.
  15. [ Book ] Dog Man : Grime and Punishment Pilkey, Dav.
  16. [ Book ] When Stars are Scattered Jamieson, Victoria.
  17. [ Book ] Max and the Midknights Peirce, Lincoln.
  18. [ Book ] Dog Man : Brawl of the Wild Pilkey, Dav.
  19. [ Book ] Dog Man : A Tale of Two Kitties Pilkey, Dav.
  20. [ Book ] The Doughnut Fix Janowitz, Jessie.
  21. [ Book ] Drama Telgemeier, Raina.
  22. [ Book ] Blended Draper, Sharon M.
  23. [ Book ] Smile Telgemeier, Raina.
  24. [ Book ] The Baby-Sitters Club : Kristy’s Great Idea Telgemeier, Raina.
  25. [ Book ] Baby-sitters little sister. 3, Karen’s worst day Farina, Katy,

Post-It Note Reviews: Quick reviews of new MG and YA books

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. Reading those is your best bet—carpal tunnel has made my handwriting mostly a disaster!

Shirley and Jamila’s Big Fall by Gillian Goerz (ISBN-13: 9780525552895 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 12/14/2021, Ages 8-12)

For fans of Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jamieson, this middle grade graphic novel tells the story of Shirley and Jamila, two girl detectives
on a mission to stop their school’s biggest bully once and for all

As Jamila settles into the rhythms of classes and after-school basketball practice, Shirley has a new mystery on her mind. Her old enemy Chuck is up to his usual tricks: He’s been blackmailing kids all over school, and Shirley knows that she and Jamila can put a stop to it.

They hatch a plan: They’ll break into his house late one night and recover all the notes Chuck’s been using to blackmail innocent kids.

But while Shirley and Jamila are at the house, another intruder arrives—an intruder who can help them put a stop to Chuck’s crimes once and for all.

(POST-IT SAYS: Detective work, friendship, and blackmail brings three girls together to work to take down a bully. Great pacing, diverse characters, and expressive, dynamic art. Be sure to check out the first book, too!)

Graceling: The Graphic Novel by Kristin Cashore, Gareth Hinds (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780358250425 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.

(POST-IT SAYS: How great to see Katsa, Po, and crew brought to visual life here. A solid adaptation with great fight scenes, satisfying depictions of the lands/terrain, and deftly captures the power of Katsa’s Grace and her revelations.)

The Genius Under the Table: Growing Up Behind the Iron Curtain by Eugene Yelchin (ISBN-13: 9781536215526 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 10/12/2021, Ages 10-15)

With a masterful mix of comic timing and disarming poignancy, Newbery Honoree Eugene Yelchin offers a memoir of growing up in Cold War Russia.

Drama, family secrets, and a KGB spy in his own kitchen! How will Yevgeny ever fulfill his parents’ dream that he become a national hero when he doesn’t even have his own room? He’s not a star athlete or a legendary ballet dancer. In the tiny apartment he shares with his Baryshnikov-obsessed mother, poetry-loving father, continually outraged grandmother, and safely talented brother, all Yevgeny has is his little pencil, the underside of a massive table, and the doodles that could change everything. With equal amounts charm and solemnity, award-winning author and artist Eugene Yelchin recounts in hilarious detail his childhood in Cold War Russia as a young boy desperate to understand his place in his family.

(POST-IT SAYS: Fantastic read. Vivid look at life in Cold War Soviet Union that puts you right in the middle of his small but exceedingly interesting life. Full of humor, heart, and hope. I loved his parents and the emphasis on art, talent, and expression.)

Honestly Elliott by Gillian McDunn (ISBN-13: 9781547606252 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 03/01/2022, Ages 8-11)

Highly-acclaimed author of Caterpillar Summer, Gillian McDunn explores boyhood in a funny, big-hearted story about a kid trying to find the best way to be his best self.

Elliott has been struggling since his closest friend moved away, and he’s not too sure where he fits into his own family, especially since his newly remarried dad and stepmom are expecting a baby. His grades aren’t too great, he’s always forgetting things, and he doesn’t really like sports. All together, the result is someone the complete opposite of his dad–a fact they’re both very aware of. Elliott’s only solace is cooking, where he can control the outcome, testing exciting recipes and watching his favorite cooking shows.

When he’s paired with the super smart and popular Maribel for a school-wide project, Elliott worries they won’t see eye to eye. But Maribel is also looking for a new way to show others her true self and this project could be the chance they’ve both been waiting for. Sometimes the least likely friends help you see a new side to things . . . and sometimes you have to make a few mistakes before you figure out what’s right.

(POST-IT SAYS: Oh, sweet Elliott! Funny and complicated Elliott has ADHD, a love of cooking, and changing family dynamics. All about dealing with emotions, mistakes, changing friendships/families, and embracing it all, even when it’s messy.)

Prisoners of Geography: Our World Explained in 12 Simple Maps (Illustrated Young Readers Edition) by Tim Marshall, Grace Easton (Illustrator), Jessica Smith (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781615198474 Publisher: The Experiment Publication date: 11/30/2021, Ages 8-18)

The secret world history written in the mountains, rivers, and seas that shape every country’s politics, economy, and international relations—and our own lives—is revealed in this illustrated young readers edition of Prisoners of Geography, the million-copy international bestseller.

History is a story—and it’s impossible to tell the whole tale without understanding the setting. In this eye-opening illustrated edition of the international bestseller Prisoners of Geography, you’ll learn to spot connections between geography and world affairs in ways you never noticed before.

  • How did the US’s rivers help it become a superpower?
  • Why are harsh, cold and swampy Siberia and the Russian Far East two of that country’s most prized regions?
  • How come Japan prefers to trade along the coasts instead of across its land?
  • What do the Himalayas have to do with war?

With colorful maps that capture every continent and region, plus hundreds of illustrations that illuminate how our surroundings shape us, this one-of-a-kind atlas will inspire curious minds of all ages!

(POST-IT SAYS: A unique read. Packed with information, this shows how geography has shaped politics, trade, development, and economies. An interesting twist on maps and geography.)

Dark Hearts: The World’s Most Famous Horror Writers by Jim Gigliotti, Karl James Mountford (Illustrator), Danielle Vega (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9780593222782 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 12/28/2021, Ages 10-17)

Sometimes the truth can be much scarier than fiction. And this collection is no exception. Uncover what fascinated and frightened some of our favorite horror writers of all time.

Who are the people who make our hearts race and our minds spin? Why are they so good at making us fear what goes bump in the night? What are the stories behind the writers who give us goosebumps? Dark Hearts is a collection of fourteen short biographies of the world’s best-known horror writers, including Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, R. L. Stine, Stephen King, Bram Stoker, and others. Their stories are gathered in this beautiful, gift-able book that is perfect for any horror fan.

(POST-IT SAYS: Beautifully designed book of brief, engaging bios of mostly white and male horror writers. Bios highlight life, fears, legacy, and important works. Will be an easy hit with fans of horror.)

A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures: An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Sami Bayly (ISBN-13: 9781615198245 Publisher: The Experiment Publication date: 12/14/2021 Series: Curious Collection of Creatures, Ages 8-14)

From the frightening murder hornet to the fierce wolverine—a visual trove of the most dangerous animals on the planet, from the author of the beloved A Curious Collection of Peculiar Creatures

When you think of dangerous animals, what comes to mind—a great white shark, a rattlesnake? What about the hooded pitohui, with its extremely poisonous feathers, or the coffin ray, which electrocutes its prey? Dangerous animals get a bad rap—and they can be pretty scary!—but that’s precisely what makes them remarkable. A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures pairs beautifully detailed illustrations with awesome facts about 60 of Earth’s most lethal animals—some that will surprise you, such as the blue-and-yellow macaw and the common otter. With this encyclopedia in hand, you may well steer clear!

What’s more, these fascinating creatures need our help: Many are endangered, and we can’t ignore them any longer. It’s time to find a fearsome creature to love . . . from a safe distance!

Publisher’s note: A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures was previously published in Australia under the title The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals.

(POST-IT SAYS: Dangerous and generally horrifying and disgusting creatures are showcased. Info on what they eat, where they live, why they’re dangerous, conservation status, and more. A great—if unsettling—collection.)

2022 Picture Books to Have on Your Radar

Yes, this blog is called Teen Librarian Toolbox. Yes, we usually focus on middle grade and YA. BUT. Since I work in an elementary library, and since a lot of our readers serve patrons of all ages, I figured I’d include a list just for picture books this year.

Hop in the comments or catch me on Twitter @CiteSomething and tell me what you are excited to read in 2022!

All descriptions from the publishers or Goodreads summaries.

This or That: A Story about Choosing by Kell Andrews, Hector Borlasca (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780884488712 Publisher: Tilbury House Publishers Publication date: 02/01/2022, Ages 6-8)

A funny, instructive story about making decisions

Alexander can’t decide on a Halloween costume, so he winds up as a pumpkin; he can’t decide what to wear to school, so he misses the bus; he can’t decide what school lunch to eat, so he winds up with tuna casserole.  

Alexander’s breakthrough comes on his birthday, when he asks for a sundae with everything but then realizes that chocolate swirl is all he wants. After that, Alexander finds his own decision-making style: not as deliberate as his mother or as quick to decide as his father, but somewhere in between. And when he tells his mom he wants a baby brother, he learns that sometimes “you get what you get, and that can be OK too.”

My Parents Won’t Stop Talking! by Emma Hunsinger, Tillie Walden (ISBN-13: 9781250800275 Publisher: Roaring Brook Press Publication date: 02/08/2022, Ages 3-6)

A child’s plans are ruined when her parents have the gall to stop to talk to the neighbors in My Parents Won’t Stop Talking!, a laugh-out-loud picture book about patience by Emma Hunsinger and Tillie Walden.

It’s time to go to the park, and Molly can’t wait! It’s going to be awesome and amazing and—

OH NO!

The neighbors have spotted her moms, and now they’re talking. A lot. And everything they say is boring. Minutes feel like hours, hours feel like days, and days feel like eons . . .

Will her parents ever stop talking?!

This is a clever, irreverent take on a universal childhood dilemma, written and illustrated by two stars in the comics world.

Beauty Woke by NoNieqa Ramos, Paola Escobar (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780358008415 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/15/2022, Ages 4-7)

Beauty Woke is a powerful story of pride and community, told with bold lyricism and the heart of a fairy tale. Readers looking for a next-generation Sleeping Beauty will fall in love with the vivid art and lyrical text. For fans of Woke Baby and Dreamers. 

Beauty is a Puerto Rican girl loved and admired by her family and community. At first, she’s awake to their beauty, and her own—a proud Boricua of Taíno and African descent. But as she grows older, she sees how people who look like her are treated badly, and she forgets what makes her special. So her community bands together to help remind her of her beautiful heritage.

Mama and Mommy and Me in the Middle by Nina LaCour, Kaylani Juanita (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781536211511 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 03/29/2022, Ages 3-7)

A little girl stays home with Mama when Mommy goes off on a work trip in this tender, inviting story that will resonate with every child who has missed a parent.

For one little girl, there’s no place she’d rather be than sitting between Mama and Mommy. So when Mommy goes away on a work trip, it’s tricky to find a good place at the table. As the days go by, Mama brings her to the library, they watch movies, and all of them talk on the phone, but she still misses Mommy as deep as the ocean and as high as an astronaut up in the stars. As they pass by a beautiful garden, the girl gets an idea . . . but when Mommy finally comes home, it takes a minute to shake off the empty feeling she felt all week before leaning in for a kiss. Michael L. Printz Award winner Nina LaCour thoughtfully renders a familiar, touching story of a child who misses a parent, illustrated by Kaylani Juanita, whose distinctive style brings charm and playfulness to this delightful family of three.

I Color Myself Different by Colin Kaepernick, Eric Wilkerson (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781338789621 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 04/05/2022, Ages 4-8)

An inspiring story of identity and self-esteem from celebrated athlete and activist Colin Kaepernick.

When Colin Kaepernick was five years old, he was given a simple school assignment: draw a picture of yourself and your family. What young Colin does next with his brown crayon changes his whole world and worldview, providing a valuable lesson on embracing and celebrating his Black identity through the power of radical self-love and knowing your inherent worth.

I Color Myself Different is a joyful ode to Black and Brown lives based on real events in young Colin’s life that is perfect for every reader’s bookshelf. It’s a story of self-discovery, staying true to one’s self, and advocating for change… even when you’re very little!

Because of You, John Lewis by Andrea Davis Pinkney, Keith Henry Brown (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781338759082 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 04/05/2022, Ages 7-10)

An inspiring story of a friendship between Congressman John Lewis and ten-year-old activist Tybre Faw by New York Times bestselling and Coretta Scott King Award-winning author Andrea Davis Pinkney!

A Junior Library Guild Selection

Ten-year-old Tybre Faw is obsessed with history and the civil rights movement, and he devours every book he can find on the subject. When he learns of Congressman John Lewis’s harrowing and heroic march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in the fight for the right to vote, Tybre is determined to meet him.

Tybre’s two grandmothers take him on the seven-hour drive to Selma. And as the two meet and become fast friends, Tybre joins Lewis for the annual walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge!

When John Lewis is laid to rest, Tybre is invited to read Lewis’s favorite poem, “Invictus,” at the funeral service. Pinkney weaves this story of a boy with a dream—with the story of a true-life hero (who himself was inspired by Martin Luther King when he was a boy).

Who will be next to rise up and turn the page on history?

Endlessly Ever After: Pick YOUR Path to Countless Fairy Tale Endings! by Laurel Snyder, Dan Santat (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781452144825 Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC Publication date: 04/19/2022, Ages 5-8)

This funny, original choose-your-path picture book of fractured fairy tales will charm any young fan of the genre, putting the power of storytelling right in the reader’s hands!

Grab your basket and your coat. Put on some walking shoes.
Turn the page and begin: Which story will you choose?

Award-winning creators Laurel Snyder and Dan Santat transform a crowd of classic tales into an ever-changing, fascinating, laugh-out-loud choose-your-path picture book, in which you may find a sleeping maiden, waste away in a sticky licorice cage, discover the gold at the end of a wild goose chase, or maybe (just maybe) save yourself—and the day!

Strong by Rob Kearney, Eric Rosswood, Nidhi Chanani (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780316292900 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 05/10/2022, Ages 4-8)

A fresh, charming picture book that shows there are lots of ways to be STRONG.

Rob dreams of becoming a champion strongman. He wants to flip huge tires, lug boulders, and haul trucks — and someday be the strongest man in the world! But he feels like he can’t fit in with his bright leggings, unicorn T-shirts, and rainbow-dyed hair. Will Rob find a way to step into his true self and be a champion?   

With bold illustrations and an engaging, informative text, Strong introduces readers to Rob Kearney and his journey from an athletic kid trying to find his place to the world’s first openly gay professional strongman.

Mi Ciudad Sings by Cynthia Harmony, Teresa Martinez (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593226841 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 06/14/2022, Ages 3-7)

After experiencing a devastating earthquake, the spirit of a charming and vibrant Mexican neighborhood might be shaken, but it cannot be broken.

As a little girl and her dog embark on their daily walk through the city, they skip and spin to the familiar sounds of revving cars, clanking bikes, friendly barks, and whistling camote carts. But what they aren’t expecting to hear is the terrifying sound of a rumbling earthquake…and then…silence.

With captivating text and lively, beautiful illustrations, this heartwarming story leaves readers with the message that they can choose to be strong and brave even when they are scared, and can still find joy and hope in the midst of sadness.

American Desi by Jyoti Rajan Gopal, Supriya Kelkar (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780316705301 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 06/21/2022, Ages 4-8)

For fans of Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, this poetic story filled with expressive art empowers South Asian children living in the United States and celebrates being bicultural.

Pavadais in bright gold colors
Jersey shirts and faded jeans
Swapping, changing, feeling seen…
Which is the color of me?

A young girl longs to know where she fits in: Is she American? Or is she Indian? Does she have to pick or can she be both? With bright, joyful rhyme, and paired with an immersive art style using American and Indian fabrics, American Desi celebrates the experiences of young children growing up first and second generation Indian American: straddling the two cultural worlds they belong to, embracing all they love of both worlds and refusing to be limited by either.

This story is a powerful tribute to the joy of being South Asian and for every reader who aspires to bridge their worlds with grace, grit, and confidence.

Book Mail: Maps, dangerous creatures, horror writers, the Green Book, and more!

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.

Prisoners of Geography: Our World Explained in 12 Simple Maps (Illustrated Young Readers Edition) by Tim Marshall, Grace Easton (Illustrator), Jessica Smith (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781615198474
Publisher: The Experiment Publication date: 11/30/2021 Edition description: Illustrated Young Readers Edition, Ages 8-18)

The secret world history written in the mountains, rivers, and seas that shape every country’s politics, economy, and international relations—and our own lives—is revealed in this illustrated young readers edition of Prisoners of Geography, the million-copy international bestseller.

History is a story—and it’s impossible to tell the whole tale without understanding the setting. In this eye-opening illustrated edition of the international bestseller Prisoners of Geography, you’ll learn to spot connections between geography and world affairs in ways you never noticed before.

  • How did the US’s rivers help it become a superpower?
  • Why are harsh, cold and swampy Siberia and the Russian Far East two of that country’s most prized regions?
  • How come Japan prefers to trade along the coasts instead of across its land?
  • What do the Himalayas have to do with war?

With colorful maps that capture every continent and region, plus hundreds of illustrations that illuminate how our surroundings shape us, this one-of-a-kind atlas will inspire curious minds of all ages!

Shirley and Jamila’s Big Fall by Gillian Goerz (ISBN-13: 9780525552888 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 12/14/2021, Ages 8-12)

For fans of Raina Telgemeier and Victoria Jamieson, this middle grade graphic novel series tells the story of Shirley and Jamila, two girl detectives on a mission to stop their school’s biggest bully once and for all

As Jamila settles into the rhythms of classes and after-school basketball practice, Shirley has a new mystery on her mind. Her old enemy Chuck is up to his usual tricks: He’s been blackmailing kids all over school, and Shirley knows that she and Jamila can put a stop to it.

They hatch a plan: They’ll break into his house late one night and recover all the notes Chuck’s been using to blackmail innocent kids.

But while Shirley and Jamila are at the house, another intruder arrives—an intruder who can help them put a stop to Chuck’s crimes once and for all.

A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures: An Illustrated Encyclopedia by Sami Bayly (ISBN-13: 9781615198245 Publisher: The Experiment Publication date: 12/14/2021 Series: Curious Collection of Creatures, Ages 8-14)

From the frightening murder hornet to the fierce wolverine—a visual trove of the most dangerous animals on the planet, from the author of the beloved A Curious Collection of Peculiar Creatures

When you think of dangerous animals, what comes to mind—a great white shark, a rattlesnake? What about the hooded pitohui, with its extremely poisonous feathers, or the coffin ray, which electrocutes its prey? Dangerous animals get a bad rap—and they can be pretty scary!—but that’s precisely what makes them remarkable. A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures pairs beautifully detailed illustrations with awesome facts about 60 of Earth’s most lethal animals—some that will surprise you, such as the blue-and-yellow macaw and the common otter. With this encyclopedia in hand, you may well steer clear!

What’s more, these fascinating creatures need our help: Many are endangered, and we can’t ignore them any longer. It’s time to find a fearsome creature to love . . . from a safe distance!

Publisher’s note: A Curious Collection of Dangerous Creatures was previously published in Australia under the title The Illustrated Encyclopaedia of Dangerous Animals.

Dark Hearts: The World’s Most Famous Horror Writers by Jim Gigliotti, Karl James Mountford (Illustrator), Danielle Vega (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9780593222782 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 12/28/2021, Ages 10-17)

Sometimes the truth can be much scarier than fiction. And this collection is no exception. Uncover what fascinated and frightened some of our favorite horror writers of all time.

Who are the people who make our hearts race and our minds spin? Why are they so good at making us fear what goes bump in the night? What are the stories behind the writers who give us goosebumps? Dark Hearts is a collection of fourteen short biographies of the world’s best-known horror writers, including Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Neil Gaiman, R. L. Stine, Stephen King, Bram Stoker, and others. Their stories are gathered in this beautiful, gift-able book that is perfect for any horror fan.

Here’s to Us by Becky Albertalli, Adam Silvera (ISBN-13: 9780063071636 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 12/28/2021, Ages 14-17)

Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera reunite to continue the story of Arthur and Ben, the boys readers first fell for in the New York Times bestselling rom-com What If It’s Us.

Ben survived freshman year of college, but he’s feeling more stuck than ever. His classes are a slog, his part-time job working with his father is even worse, and his best friend Dylan’s been acting weird for weeks. Ben’s only real bright spot is his writing partner Mario, who’s been giving him a lot of Spanish lessons and even more kisses. Mario’s big Hollywood dreams make Ben start to dream bigger—and the choices he makes now could be the key to reshaping his future. So why can’t he stop thinking about a certain boy from his past?

Arthur is back in New York City for the first time in two years, ready to take the theater world by a storm as the world’s best . . . intern to the assistant of an off-off-Broadway director. Of course, it sucks to be spending the summer apart from his sweet, reliable boyfriend, Mikey, but he knows their relationship is strong enough to weather the distance. Which is why it’s no big deal when his ex-boyfriend Ben stumbles back into the picture. And it’s definitely fine that Ben’s blissfully happy with some mystery boy. First loves are special, but it’s way too late for what-ifs. Right?

Even as the boys try to shake off the past, they keep running into each other in the present. Is this the universe trying to tell them there’s a do-over in their future?

Here’s to Us is sure to be welcomed by fans old and new of these authors and their previous collaboration, What If It’s Us. Critically acclaimed and bestselling authors Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera combine their talents in these smart, funny, heartfelt novels about two very different boys who can’t decide if the universe is pushing them together—or pulling them apart.

Courage: My Story of Persecution by Freshta Tori Jan, Zainab Nasrati (Editor), Zoe Ruiz (Editor), Amanda Uhle (Editor), Dave Eggers (Editor) (ISBN-13: 9781324016670 Publisher: Norton Young Readers Publication date: 01/11/2022 Series: I, Witness, Ages 9-12)

Continuing this propulsive middle grade nonfiction series, a young woman once persecuted by the Taliban shares her journey to becoming a community activist.As a girl and as part of an ethnic minority in Afghanistan, Freshta Tori Jan was persecuted relentlessly. Her family faced kidnappings and daily murder attempts on the bus, on the way to school, in the workplace, and beyond. Freshta’s school was shut down by the Taliban, and many of her friends were murdered and shot. Her journey through poverty, terrorism, and other forms of injustice has enabled her to be a voice for those unable to share their stories and those unable to receive the opportunities she has sought. She believes in empowering youth in order to bring about change and be the leaders of today and tomorrow.

With a voice that is both accessible and engaging, Freshta brings forward a captivating first-person account of strength, resilience, and determination, and delivers compelling narrative nonfiction by young people, for young people.

Who Was the Voice of the People?: Cesar Chavez: A Who HQ Graphic Novel by Terry Blas, Mar Julia (Illustrator), Who HQ (ISBN-13: 9780593224496
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/11/2022 Series: Who HQ Graphic Novels, Ages 8-12)

Discover the story behind Cesar Chavez and the Delano Grape Strike in this moving graphic novel — written by award-winning author Terry Blas and illustrated by Ignatz-nominated cartoonist Mar Julia.

Presenting Who HQ Graphic Novels: an exciting new addition to the #1 New York Times Best-Selling Who Was? series!

Follow Cesar Chavez and the National Farm Workers Association, as they set out on a difficult 300-mile protest march in support of farm workers’ rights. A story of hope, solidarity, and perseverance, this graphic novel invites readers to immerse themselves in the life of the famous Latino American Civil Rights leader — brought to life by gripping narrative and vivid full-color illustrations that jump off the page.

Who Sparked the Montgomery Bus Boycott?: Rosa Parks: A Who HQ Graphic Novel by Insha Fitzpatrick, Abelle Hayford (Illustrator), Hanna Schroy (Colorist), Who HQ (ISBN-13: 9780593224465 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/11/2022 Series: Who HQ Graphic Novels, Ages 8-12)

Discover the story behind Rosa Parks and the Montgomery Bus Boycott in this compelling graphic novel — written by Oh My Gods! author Insha Fitzpatrick and illustrated by #DrawingWhileBlack organizer Abelle Hayford.

Presenting Who HQ Graphic Novels: an exciting new addition to the #1 New York Times Best-Selling Who Was? series!

From refusing to give up her bus seat to a white passenger to sparking civil rights protests across America, explore how Rosa Parks’s powerful act earned her the title “Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.” A story of resistance, strength, and unwavering spirit, this graphic novel invites readers to immerse themselves in the life of the American Civil Rights leader — brought to life by gripping narrative and vivid full-color illustrations that jump off the page.

Game On: 15 Stories of Wins, Losses, and Everything in Between edited by Laura Silverman (ISBN-13: 978-0593352786 Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers Publication date: 01/18/2022, Ages 12-17)

A charming and inclusive YA anthology all about games—from athletic sports to board games to virtual reality—from editor Laura Silverman and an all-star cast of contributors.
 


From the slightly fantastical to the utterly real, light and sweet romance to tales tinged with horror and thrills, Game On is an anthology that spans genre and style. But beneath each story is a loving ode to competition and games perfect for anyone who has ever played a sport or a board game, picked up a video game controller, or rolled a twenty-sided die.

A manhunt game is interrupted by a town disappearing beneath the players’ eyes. A puzzle-filled scavenger hunt emboldens one college freshman to be brave with the boy she’s crushing on. A series of summer nights full of card games leads a boy to fall for a boy who he knows is taken. And a spin the bottle game could end a life-long friendship.

Fifteen stories, and fifteen unforgettable experiences that may inspire readers to start up that Settlers of Catan game again.

Overground Railroad (The Young Adult Adaptation): The Green Book and the Roots of Black Travel in America by Candacy Taylor (ISBN-13: 978-1419749490 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 01/25/2022, Ages 12+)

A young reader’s edition of Candacy Taylor’s acclaimed book about the history of the Green Book, the guide for Black travelers
Overground Railroad chronicles the history of the Green Book, which was published from 1936 to 1966 and was the “Black travel guide to America.” For years, it was dangerous for African Americans to travel in the United States. Because of segregation, Black travelers couldn’t eat, sleep, or even get gas at most white-owned businesses.

The Green Book listed hotels, restaurants, department stores, gas stations, recreational destinations, and other businesses that were safe for Black travelers. It was a resourceful and innovative solution to a horrific problem. It took courage to be listed in the Green Book, and the stories from those who took a stand against racial segregation are recorded and celebrated.

This young reader’s edition of Candacy Taylor’s critically acclaimed adult book Overground Railroad includes her own photographs of Green Book sites, as well as archival photographs and interviews with people who owned and used these facilities. The book also includes an author’s note, endnotes, bibliography, timeline, and index.

When the World Turned Upside Down by K. Ibura (ISBN-13: 9781338746266 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 02/01/2022, Ages 8-12)

What do you do when the world shuts down? A heartwarming story of friendship and overcoming adversity in a time of COVID, When the World Turns Upside Down is about community, giving back, and understanding the world around us through the power of generosity from debut middle grade author K. Ibura.

Nobody expected a tiny little virus to change the whole world in such a big way, especially not Shayla, Liam, Ai, and Ben. But when school closes to keep everyone safe, their lives turn upside down. It is one thing to learn that the outside world isn’t safe, but why does it seem that the virus is causing trouble inside their homes too?

As they each struggle to adjust to life in quarantine, they discover they are not alone: their apartment building is full of people who need their help. Working together, they begin to see that there is power in numbers. When they cooperate, they can ease each other’s challenges and help their neighbors through tough times. It’s a lesson they’ll need when protests explode in the streets. Soon, each friend has to decide what it means to be part of a community—and how much they’re willing to do to make this world safer for everyone.

Set against the onset of COVID, When the World Turned Upside Down navigates issues of race and social justice in a heartwarming story of generosity, friendship, and the power of youth.

All My Rage by Sabaa Tahir (ISBN-13: 9780593202340 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/01/2022, Ages 14+)

From #1 New York Times bestselling author Sabaa Tahir comes a brilliant, unforgettable, and heart-wrenching contemporary YA novel about family and forgiveness, love and loss, in a sweeping story that crosses generations and continents.

Lahore, Pakistan. Then.
Misbah is a dreamer and storyteller, newly married to Toufiq in an arranged match. After their young life is shaken by tragedy, they come to the United States and open the Cloud’s Rest Inn Motel, hoping for a new start.

Juniper, California. Now.
Salahudin and Noor are more than best friends; they are family. Growing up as outcasts in the small desert town of Juniper, California, they understand each other the way no one else does. Until The Fight, which destroys their bond with the swift fury of a star exploding. 

Now, Sal scrambles to run the family motel as his mother Misbah’s health fails and his grieving father loses himself to alcoholism. Noor, meanwhile, walks a harrowing tightrope: working at her wrathful uncle’s liquor store while hiding the fact that she’s applying to college so she can escape him—and Juniper—forever.

When Sal’s attempts to save the motel spiral out of control, he and Noor must ask themselves what friendship is worth—and what it takes to defeat the monsters in their pasts and the ones in their midst. 

From one of today’s most cherished and bestselling young adult authors comes a breathtaking novel of young love, old regrets, and forgiveness—one that’s both tragic and poignant in its tender ferocity.

K-Pop Revolution by Stephan Lee (ISBN-13: 9781338751130 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 04/05/2022, Ages 12-18)

She thought that debuting in a K-Pop band was the finish line, but it was only the beginning. Because now it’s not only Candace’s company judging her—it’s the entire world. How will she find the courage to stand by her beliefs, even when powerful forces are trying to shame and silence her…

In the sequel to K-Pop COnfidential, Candace is a Rookie idol. Her life is suddenly filled with the fans, cameras, and glamor of stardom: She and her boyfriend, YoungBae, are a K-Pop power couple; she’s a walking icon at Brandt Foreign School; and her new girl group, known simply as THE GIRLS, is poised to break records across the industry. With her status as the industry’s K-Pop Warrior, she has all the clout at her disposal to make waves. Right?

Her label, S.A.Y., promises to help make the sweeping changes for the industry to become a more humane and compassionate place for artists. But what will happen when the road to a record-breaking debut isn’t as smooth as they’d planned? When a rival girl group emerges to steal the spotlight, carrying the message of change better than Candace ever could, she’ll have to decide what it’ll cost her and her bandmates to stand up for their beliefs. And as the world turns against her, with online bullies scrutinizing her every word, there’s only so much that one person can take.

From the top of the world to the brink of disaster, Candace is going to have to figure out why the world is out to get her. And she’s not going to be able to do it alone.

How far does one girl need to be pushed to start a K-Pop Revolution?

Primal Animals by Julia Lynn Rubin (ISBN-13: 9781250757296 Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group Publication date: 05/24/2022, Ages 14-18)

Protect the girls

Arlee Gold is anxious about spending the summer at the college prep Camp Rockaway—the same camp her mother attended years ago, which her mother insists will help give Arlee a “fresh start” and will “change her life.” Little does Arlee know that, once she steps foot on the manicured grounds, this will prove to be true in horrifying ways.

Even though the girls in her cabin are awesome—and she’s developing a major crush on the girl who sleeps in the bunk above her—the other campers seem to be wary of Arlee, unwilling to talk to her or be near her, which only ramps up her paranoia. When she’s tapped to join a strange secret society, Arlee thinks this will be her shot at fitting in…until her new “sisters” ask her to do the unthinkable, putting her life, and the life of her new crush, in perilous danger.

Together We Burn by Isabel Ibañez (ISBN-13: 9781250803351 Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group Publication date: 05/31/2022, Ages 13-18)

An ancient city plagued by dragons

Eighteen-year-old Zarela Zalvidar is a talented flamenco dancer and daughter of the most famous Dragonador in Hispalia. People come for miles to see him fight in their arena, which will one day be hers. But disaster strikes during one celebratory show, and in the carnage, Zarela’s life changes in an instant.

Aflamenco dancer who must become a dragon hunter to save her family legacy

With the Dragon Guild trying to wrest control of her inheritance from her, Zarela has no choice but to train to become a Dragonador. But when the most talented dragon hunter left in the land — the infuriatingly handsome Arturo Díaz de Montserrat — withholds his help, Zarela cannot take no for an answer. Without him, her world will burn.

Home Field Advantage by Dahlia Adler (ISBN-13: 9781250765840 Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group Publication date: 06/07/2022, Ages 13-18)

Amber McCloud’s dream is to become cheer captain at the end of the year, but it’s an extra-tall order to be joyful and spirited when the quarterback of your team has been killed in a car accident. For both the team and the squad, watching Robbie get replaced by newcomer Jack Walsh is brutal. And when it turns out Jack is actually short for Jaclyn, all hell breaks loose.

The players refuse to be led by a girl, the cheerleaders are mad about the changes to their traditions, and the fact that Robbie’s been not only replaced but outshined by a QB who wears a sports bra has more than a few Atherton Alligators in a rage. Amber tries for some semblance of unity, but it quickly becomes clear that she’s only got a future on the squad and with her friends if she helps them take Jack down.

Just one problem: Amber and Jack are falling for each other, and if Amber can’t stand up for Jack and figure out how to get everyone to fall in line, her dream may come at the cost of her heart.

Dahlia Adler’s Home Field Advantage is a sparkling romance about fighting for what – or who – you truly want.

Long Story Short by Serena Kaylor (ISBN-13: 9781250818416 Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group Publication date: 07/26/2022, Ages 14-18)

Serena Kaylor’s Long Story Short is a debut YA rom-com about a homeschooled math genius who finds herself out of her element at a theater camp, where she learns about friendship, love, and how to be herself.

Beatrice Quinn has spent sixteen very serious years studying to get into Oxford University. Homeschooled and a whiz at statistics, Beatrice knows that she belongs at Oxford, where she will finally find people who understand her. She thought the hardest part would be getting in, not convincing her parents to let her go. They’ve put a halt to her plans until she can prove she’s able to make friends with people her own age and function in social situations. Their solution: Shakespearean theater camp and a detailed list of teenage milestones to check off. She has six weeks to show her parents she can pull off the role of “normal” teenager and won’t spend the rest of her life hiding in a library.

Unfortunately, hearts and hormones don’t follow any rules, and there is no textbook for teenage interactions. When she’s adopted by a group of eclectic theater kids, and immediately makes an enemy of the gorgeous popular son of the camp founders, she realizes that relationships are trickier than calculus. As the summer draws to an end, and with Oxford on the line, this girl genius stumbles through illicit parties, double dog dares, and more than your fair share of Shakespeare. But before the final curtain falls, will Beatrice still feel like Oxford alone is enough?

Accomplished: A Georgie Darcy Novel by Amanda Quain (ISBN-13: 9781250817815 Publisher: St. Martin’s Publishing Group Publication date: 07/26/2022, Ages 13-18)

Georgiana Darcy gets the Pride & Prejudice retelling she deserves in Amanda Quain’s Accomplished, a sparkling contemporary YA featuring a healthy dose of marching band romance, endless banter, and Charles Bingley as a ripped frat boy.

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Georgiana Darcy should have been expelled after The Incident with Wickham Foster last year – at least if you ask any of her Pemberley Academy classmates. She may have escaped expulsion because of her family name, but she didn’t escape the disappointment of her big brother Fitz, the scorn of the entire school, or, it turns out, Wickham’s influence.

But she’s back for her junior year, and she needs to prove to everyone – Fitz, Wickham, her former friends, and maybe even herself – that she’s more than just an embarrassment to the family name. How hard can it be to become the Perfect Darcy? All she has to do is:

– Rebuild her reputation with the marching band (even if it kills her)
– Forget about Wickham and his lies (no matter how tempting they still are), and
– Distract Fitz Darcy — helicopter-sibling extraordinaire — by getting him to fall in love with his classmate, Lizzie Bennet (this one might be difficult…)

Sure, it’s a complicated plan, but so is being a Darcy. With the help of her fellow bandmate, Avery, matchmaking ideas lifted straight from her favorite fanfics, and a whole lot of pancakes, Georgie is going to see every one of her plans through. But when the weight of being the Perfect Darcy comes crashing down, Georgie will have to find her own way before she loses everything permanently—including the one guy who sees her for who she really is.

Favorite Books of 2021

Yes, it’s list time. 

What follows are my favorite 2021 books that I reviewed here at TLT and excerpts of my reviews. Guess what? Here’s what I wrote at this time last year, and it’s still true, and maybe will always be true, so here you go: This was a ROUGH year (understatement, I know) full of stress and grief and change and despair. Everyone who debuted during this terrible year, congratulations. Everyone who published anything this year, congratulations. Anyone who wrote anything this year, congratulations. Anyone who simply survived this year, congratulations.

I pretty much exclusively read contemporary fiction, which my list reflects. These are the books that most stuck with me this year.  Even though I’m a voracious reader, I’m sure I missed a lot of great 2021 books. I always enjoy reading the many lists that crop up this time of the year, but I also always want more variety and to hear from more people. So here’s my list—will you share yours with us too? Leave us a comment or hit me up on Twitter where I’m @CiteSomething. 

Books appear on this list in order of publication date. These are excerpts of my reviews, with links at the end of each excerpt to the full review.

Winterkeep by Kristin Cashore (ISBN-13: 9780803741508 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/19/2021 Series: Graceling Realm Series, Ages 14-17)

Winterkeep deals with heavy themes, many of which are common to all of the Graceling stories—love, loss, grief, trauma, manipulation, and toxic families. The biggest themes, however, are environmentalism and warfare, themes that all the humans must grapple with as they trek through Winterkeep and themes that are at the heart of what the silbercows and their giant sea creature friend must do.

While this story can be read alone, reading it in context of the rest of the Graceling Realm books would be more meaningful. This particular book also has wide crossover audience appeal. Bitterblue is 23, Giddon is 31, and Hava is 20. Lovisa and friends are the teens in the story. Parents and other adult family members of various characters also play large roles in what unfolds.

This is a story of choices and survival. It is one of bullying, gaslighting, abuse, and fear. It is about government, politics, and war. But more than anything, it is about truth, strength, warmth, love, support, and healing. This is a strong addition to the series—perhaps my favorite—and I hope we see more of this expanding world. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston (ISBN-13: 9780062975164 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 01/19/2021 Series: Supernatural Investigations #1, Ages 8-12)

Now Amari has to prove herself to those in charge or she’ll be cut loose from the program and have her memory wiped. Staying and succeeding is the only chance she has at tracking down her brother. As Amari thinks, this is not so different from being a Black girl from the projects attending a private school (as she did). She’s used to standing out, to being judged. She doesn’t like being underestimated and will prove people that they’re wrong about her, but will have to deal with secrets, lies, blackmail, creatures, illusions, tests, and traitors along the way.

Every page of this story was a delight. Really all I want in life right now is for this whole series to be out and all the movies so I can just live inside the world of Amari and friends. I’m obsessed. Go order this right now. And get ready for it to fly off library shelves. One of the best starts to a fantasy series that I’ve read in a very long time. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

Can’t Take That Away by Steven Salvatore (ISBN-13: 9781547605309
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 03/09/2021 Age Range: 12 – 17 Years)

Before long, Carey is at the center of a movement to increase the safety and support of queer kids at their school, eventually leading a protest, starting petitions, addressing the school board, and gaining national attention.

Through it all, Carey is surrounded by love and support. They have a great therapist, a fantastic mother who is 100% there to support and love her kid, and far more friends than they initially feel like are in their corner. Throughout the story, Carey needs to learn to be brave, feel safe, and trust others (you know—just really tiny and simple things—ha!) in order to be seen as they truly are. Carey comes to really understand that the reality of people is that they’re complicated and messy, but those that are there for you will be there for you no matter what. This book will leave readers with the powerful and affirming message that you are worthy, loved, perfect, important, and deserve to be seen as yourself, whatever that may look like. And while many upsetting and completely unacceptable things happen to Carey over the course of the book, Salvatore makes sure Carey always sees the love and support, ultimately leading Carey to a much happier place than they start the story in. Carey’s road is not easy—in fact, it’s very painful to read about—but the crying I mentioned up there in my tweet? It wasn’t for the all-too-realistic trauma Carey goes through—it was for the beautiful expressions of love, support, solidarity, and acceptance. All teens should be so lucky. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

What Beauty There Is by Cory Anderson (ISBN-13: 9781250268099 Publisher: Roaring Brook Press Publication date: 04/06/2021, Ages 14-18)

A desperate boy risks everything to keep his brother out of foster care in this heart-pounding and heartbreaking story of survival and sacrifice. Seventeen-year-old Jack and his second-grade brother, Matty, only have each other. With their father incarcerated and their mother recently deceased, their only hope of sticking together is finding the money their father went to prison for stealing. Deeply impoverished and terrified of child protective services getting involved, Jack sets out to track down that cash, pursued at every turn by drug dealers and Bardem, his father’s partner in crime. His only hope comes in the form of Ava, who decides to help them and gets wrapped up in their mission. But Ava’s secret—that she’s Bardem’s daughter—guarantees there is no way things can end happily. Unremittingly bleak and gritty, this suspenseful story centers around the ravages of poverty and drug addiction that have left Jack and Matty with nothing. Breathtakingly beautiful writing and tender characters collide with a brutal plot filled with bloodshed and anguish. The body count piles up as Jack, Matty, and Ava try to hide in the quiet, frigid emptiness of rural Idaho, never more than half a step ahead of their hunters. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

How to Become a Planet by Nicole Melleby (ISBN-13: 9781643750361 Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill Publication date: 05/25/2021, Ages 9-12)

Pluto spends the summer working with a tutor, beginning therapy, visiting her father (and meeting his girlfriend, who has OCD), also having a terrible, terrible time trying to adjust to living with depression and anxiety. She pulls back from friends, lashes out at her mom, shuts down, rages, cries, fakes her way through things, and just feels crummy.

But.

But. There’s hope. She has the BEST supportive and loving mother. She has medication. She has a therapist. She’s getting caught up in school. She’s sort of seeing her old friends a little. And she’s realizing she gets butterflies whenever she’s around Fallon. She will be okay. Pluto learns to move beyond just wanting to be “fixed” to starting to understand that she’s still herself, no matter what is happening in her life. It’s okay to have bad days. It’s okay to not be okay. And just like with the planet she’s named after, her definition may change but her properties are still the same. She’s still Pluto.

This is a lovely, compassionate, and gentle story that’s full of love, support, hope, and honesty. An absolutely necessary addition to all collections that serve this age group. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

Strange Creatures by Phoebe North (ISBN-13: 9780062841155 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 14-17)

Annie and Jamie live the truest versions of their lives in Gumlea, a safe, sacred fantasy world in the woods behind their house, where they encounter harpies, mermaids, and feral children. In the real world, they don’t fit right. Jamie learns to turn off his feelings and go along to get along. Annie doesn’t mind being abrasive and strange, but worries she’s losing Jamie. When Jamie disappears as a young teen, Annie’s world is shattered. She becomes consumed with the idea that Jamie must somehow be trapped in Gumlea—she can see him there, with ships and pirates and ropes, their sanctuary now a prison. After Annie begins to date Indian American Vidya, Jamie’s ex-girlfriend, she descends into what looks like madness, gathering supplies for a ritual to open the Veil and bring Jamie back so she can be whole again. The story follows them from birth through Annie’s college years. Chapters begin with bits of their Gumlea stories, which serve as allegory and revelation. Narration is shared by Jamie, Annie, and Vidya to powerful effect. Readers will puzzle over just where the reality is in all the fantasy as they delve deeper into the siblings’ richly imagined paracosm. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

Summer in the City of Roses by Michelle Ruiz Keil (ISBN-13: 9781641291712 Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated Publication date: 07/06/2021, Ages 14-17)

You can read the summary up above my thoughts. I’m not going to talk about what happens other than to say I felt completely wrapped up and brought along on the adventures Orr and Iph have while apart (and eventually together) in Portland. It’s the 90s, in this book (you know–that time I was a music-obsessed punk teen, an era my brain INSISTS on thinking was maybe 10 years ago—don’t correct me). The story is full of feminism and punk rock and adventure and magic and love. There’s poetry, theater, sex workers, books, beautiful weirdos in crummy apartments, mythology, fairytales, animals, and love love love. It’s a weird, dark, happy, sad, real, fantastical story. It’s serious and upsetting and whimsical and hopeful. Just go read it. This is a standout book about runaways finding what they need in the strangest of ways. Just lovely. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

Yusuf Azeem Is Not a Hero by Saadia Faruqi (ISBN-13: 9780062943255 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/07/2021, Ages 8-12)

Yusuf and others at school as called “terrorists” and told to go back where they came from, referred to as “the enemy” and sweeping statements are made about “your kind,” not just from the adults in this Patriot Sons group, but by their classmates. Yusuf is hurt and furious. This is their home. And so he starts calling out the bullying he’s witnessing. He doesn’t want to be a hero, but he does want to be a decent person who spreads kindness and protects others—things he sees as his duty as a Muslim. He’s speaking out and standing up, but horrible stuff just keeps happening—a peer’s hijab is ripped off, his father’s shop is vandalized, and, eventually, Yusuf is accused of having a bomb at school and hauled into the police station. He listens to his friends tell him it’s just easier to stay on the sidelines and not get involved, but that’s just not who Yusuf is. Someone has to be brave. Someone has to speak up.

The journal entries from 2001 and Yusuf’s narration from 2021 show the kind of hatred and cruelty that exists. And though Yusuf faces a lot during his sixth grade year, he is also surrounded by so many good people who also stand up for what’s right, who speak up, who are willing to learn and change and grow. This emotional read will give readers plenty to think about—whether because they’re learning to see people and events in a new light, or because they see their own experiences reflected in Yusuf’s. A must for all collections. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

The Insiders by Mark Oshiro (ISBN-13: 9780063008106 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/21/2021, Ages 8-12)

But it’s no ordinary closet—it’s a secret portal/space that links him with two other students seeking refuge—Chinese and Black Juliana, who likes girls, and Filipino and white Sal, who uses they/them pronouns. Small note: Héctor lives in CA, Juliana in SC, and Sal in AZ. Yep, magic. The closet/Room (as they start to call it) seems to be a place that shows up to protect them and provide them with what they need. And the biggest need for all three? To feel like they belong, like they’re accepted, like they have their place in their schools. Together, the three are able to support and help each other. And in non-Room-related school stuff, Héctor begins to become friends with kids who befriended him right away. He goes from lonely, not feeling like he belongs, and wanting to just disappear to learning it’s okay to be himself, to trust new friends, and to ask for help.

Though all three Room kids face uncertainty, confusion, fear, and anxiety, they are all surrounded by support and love. Oshiro’s message is clear: nothing is better than being yourself. Not even a magical Room that appears just when you need it. A heartwarming and fun read. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

The Troubled Girls of Dragomir Academy by Anne Ursu (ISBN-13: 9780062275127 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 10/12/2021 Age Range: 8 – 12 Years)

By the end of the story, we see the myriad ways men fail women, the way they are cowards and liars and manipulators. We see the truth, we see the lies, we see the control, the power, and the bravery. We also see that Anne Ursu is a master storyteller (which, of course, we already know) who knows just how to skewer the patriarchy and leave readers feeling inspired by the brave actions of her characters. I could not put this book down and when I did, I felt hopeful, which is an amazing feeling to experience for even two minutes these days. A smart story about control, rebellion, story itself, and the fearsome power of girls allowed to be themselves. A great book for girls who can’t follow the rules and, better yet, don’t want to. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

Violets Are Blue by Barbara Dee (ISBN-13: 9781534469181 Publisher: Aladdin Publication date: 10/12/2021, Ages 9-13)

While her mother’s opioid addiction is the most Important part of this story, there are many smaller important parts that also feel so significant to Wren. Negotiating new friends in middle school is almost always fraught with lots of peril, and Wren has ups and downs with her new classmates as she tries to figure out who’s nice, who seems fake, and who’s maybe just misunderstood. And her whole obsession with special effects makeup is pretty cool. She’s always watching tutorials and practicing on her friends and her mom. I loved this interest for her, given her very real need to be interested in wearing a mask, becoming someone else, changing your story, etc.

Like all of Dee’s others books, this one handles the more mundane and relatable just as seriously and skillfully as the heavy and specific. Both are shown as significant. For many middle schoolers, they have a lot going on in their home lives, a lot that they may be hiding. For Wren, we see her get through what she can alone, while feeling confused and not necessarily well cared for, but we also see her surrounded by support, love, and, eventually, help. A great read. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)

Living with Viola by Rosena Fung (ISBN-13: 9781773215488 Publisher: Annick Press, Limited Publication date: 11/30/2021 Age Range: 9 – 12 Years)

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. (FULL REVIEW HERE.)