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Book Review: The Supervillain’s Guide to Being a Fat Kid by Matt Wallace

Publisher’s description

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

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

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

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

* A Junior Library Guild selection *

Amanda’s thoughts

In a world where there are literal superheroes and villains, Max is interested in the villains—specifically, in imprisoned supervillain Maximo Marconius III, otherwise known as Master Plan. Superheroes just make everything worse, in Max’s eyes, and never have to deal with the fallout of their fights or actions. He feels an affinity for Maximo, and when his woes and stresses of middle school become overwhelming, he writes to Maximo, asking for advice. The two strike up an email correspondence and Maximo offers him surprisingly great advice (surprising because when we think of supervillains, we don’t maybe thinking of being compassionate and of dissuading violence).

Max is being bullied at school by an older boy and his crew, primarily for being fat, and it’s making him miserable. In his initial letter, he tells Maximo he knows there’s nothing wrong with being fat or using the word fat—but knowing those things doesn’t stop the other kids from being brutal or stop Max from being afraid of and tired of their taunting. Maximo, aka Master Plan, reminds him that violence is never the answer, but exposing your enemies’ lack of imagination and own weaknesses is a far more effective tool. They continue to share worries and advice, and again, some of it is so useful for ANYONE to hear. Maximo reminds Max that girls don’t owe him time or attention and that he can’t “make” girls like him, as no one should be made to do anything. He constantly encourages him to be his best self, to feel eligible to participate in his own life, and tells him it is unacceptable to have to live in fear of bullies.


Sound advice that all middle school kids could really use, right?!

But, despite all this great advice, including some advice on how to dress comfortably/for your body type and slowly change your look (after years of your mother basically making all your clothing and appearance choices) and to only make changes that will make you happy (in other words, don’t do them for other people), things eventually go sideways. There’s the fact that Luca, Max’s one friend, who is poor, feels left behind by Max as he has new experiences and gets new clothes, which causes tension between the boys. And there’s the fact that Max is keeping lots of secrets. And that he eventually gets some revenge, but it sure doesn’t feel great, especially once he figures out just exactly what Maximo, called Master Plan for a reason, was up to.

Here’s what I loved: a real and honest friendship between two boys (who eventually learn how to fully confide in each other, how to comfort each other, and how to be vulnerable in front of each other); the confidence Max learns by embracing his full self; that we see a boy dealing with body issues (and that he never hates himself for this, he never attempts to lose weight, and he’s reminded over and over that being fat is okay and the word is simply a descriptor); and the unique setting of a world where there are superheroes and supervillains. The plot moves quickly, the voice is compelling, and while full of smart advice about self-worth and acceptance, readers will know to be on the lookout for something more going on, because a supervillain can’t just be doling out helpful life advice to a middle schooler, can he?

This was a solid read especially for those who need a reminder that being bullied is never their fault and that they deserve to be active participants in their own life—no one should have to hide themselves or live in fear. I loved Bump, also by Wallace, and look forward to seeing what else he writes for this age!

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780063008038
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/25/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Post-It Note Reviews: A brave little garlic, graphic novel biographies, opioid addiction, a new slayer, and more!

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

Frequent blog readers may have noticed I’m doing a lot more post-it-style reviews and less longer, individual review posts. 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. (Also? Existing in reality all the time is exhausting and frustrating, so more than ever with any free second I have, I’m cracking open a book).

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!

Secrets of Camp Whatever Vol. 1 by Chris Grine (ISBN-13: 9781620108628 Publisher: Oni Press Publication date: 03/30/2021, Ages 9-12)

Perfect for fans of Lumberjanes and Brain Camp, there’s more than mosquitos at Camp Whatever and Willow will need to face truths about herself and her family as summer camp dread goes head to head with the supernatural.

Eleven year-old Willow doesn’t want to go to her dad’s weird old summer camp any more than she wants her family to move to the weird old town where that camp is located. But her family—and fate itself—seem to have plans of their own. Soon Willow finds herself neck-deep in a confounding mystery involving stolen snacks, suspected vampires, and missing campers, all shrouded in the sinister fog that hides a generation of secrets at Camp … Whatever it’s called.

(POST-IT SAYS: I don’t know why anyone would send their kids to this camp, but I’m glad they do! Creepy humans and kind creatures give Willow (who is Deaf) and friends a summer they’ll never forget—well, unless they’re hypnotized to do just that! Good fun.)

Garlic and the Vampire by Bree Paulsen (ISBN-13: 9780062995094 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 09/28/2021, Ages 8-12)

An enchanting, farm-fresh debut graphic novel starring an unusual heroine who is braver than she realizes, for middle grade readers looking for a cozy, adventuresome read in the vein of Witch Boy or Be Prepared.

Garlic feels as though she’s always doing something wrong. At least with her friend Carrot by her side and the kindly Witch Agnes encouraging her, Garlic is happy to just tend her garden, where it’s nice and safe.

But when her village of vegetable folk learns that a bloodthirsty vampire has moved into the nearby castle, they all agree that, in spite of her fear and self-doubt, Garlic is the obvious choice to confront him. And with everyone counting on her, Garlic reluctantly agrees to face the mysterious vampire, hoping she has what it takes.

After all, garlic drives away vampires…right?

(POST-IT SAYS: I’m in love with this book. Anxious little Garlic finds bravery and discovers things aren’t always as bad or scary as we build them up to be. I want to climb in this book and explore the cozy homes and beautiful gardens. A perfect book.)

Food-Related Stories by Gaby Melian, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593223499 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/18/2022 Series: Pocket Change Collective, Ages 12-17)

“Gaby Melian tells so many stories through her relationship with food—about love, about loss, about hard work, and about finding her passion. The pages are dripping with delicious smells and tastes, and will give you a new way to look at both cooking and what it means to have a plan.” —Molly Birnbaum, editor in chief, America’s Test Kitchen Kids

In this moving, personal account, chef and activist Gaby Melian shares her journey with food and how creating a relationship with food — however simple or complicated — is a form of activism in its own right.

Pocket Change Collective was born out of a need for space. Space to think. Space to connect. Space to be yourself. And this is your invitation to join us. This is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists.

“Food rescued me so many other times — not only because I sold food to survive. I cook to entertain; I cook to be liked; I cook to be loved.” In this installment, chef and activist Gaby Melian shares her personal journey with food — from growing up in Argentina to her time as a Jersey City street vendor and later, as Bon Appetit‘s test kitchen manager. Powerful and full of heart, here, Melian explores how we can develop a relationship with food that’s healthy, sustainable, and thoughtful.

(POST-IT SAYS: I adore this series. I did want to know more about Melian’s many jobs/undertakings, but was moved by her passion for food as adventure, story, family, love, strength, and more.)

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.

(POST-IT SAYS: Love that they’re now doing graphic novels! Lots of context here on civil rights, major players (including Claudette Colvin), Jim Crow laws, boycotts, the harassment Parks faced, etc. Extremely informational.)

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.

(POST-IT SAYS: A solid introduction to Chavez, the farm laborer movement, the grapes strike, the National Farm Workers Association, and the long march from Delano to Sacramento. A great look at protest and activism.)

You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow (ISBN-13: 9780525708049 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 09/28/2021, Ages 14-17)

From the New York Times bestselling author of Girl in Pieces comes a stunning novel that Vanity Fair calls “impossibly moving” and “suffused with light”. In this raw, deeply personal story, a teenaged girl struggles to find herself amidst the fallout of her brother’s addiction in a town ravaged by the opioid crisis.

For all of Emory’s life she’s been told who she is. In town she’s the rich one—the great-great-granddaughter of the mill’s founder. At school she’s hot Maddie Ward’s younger sister. And at home, she’s the good one, her stoner older brother Joey’s babysitter. Everything was turned on its head, though, when she and Joey were in the car accident that killed Candy MontClaire. The car accident that revealed just how bad Joey’s drug habit was.

Four months later, Emmy’s junior year is starting, Joey is home from rehab, and the entire town of Mill Haven is still reeling from the accident. Everyone’s telling Emmy who she is, but so much has changed, how can she be the same person? Or was she ever that person at all?

Mill Haven wants everyone to live one story, but Emmy’s beginning to see that people are more than they appear. Her brother, who might not be “cured,” the popular guy who lives next door, and most of all, many “ghostie” addicts who haunt the edges of the town. People spend so much time telling her who she is—it might be time to decide for herself.

A journey of one sister, one brother, one family, to finally recognize and love each other for who they are, not who they are supposed to be, You’d Be Home Now is Kathleen Glasgow’s glorious and heartbreaking story about the opioid crisis, and how it touches all of us.

(POST-IT SAYS: A powerful, sad, and deeply compassionate look at addiction. Glasgow writes amazing books and this might be her best yet. A nuanced and affecting exploration of how addiction isn’t a person’s whole story. Just gutting.)

In Every Generation by Kendare Blake (ISBN-13: 9781368075022 Publisher: Disney Press Publication date: 01/04/2022, Ages 12-18)

Return to Sunnydale in a brand-new series by New York Times best-selling author Kendare Blake, set in the world of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

Frankie Rosenberg wasn’t yet alive when her mom, Willow, her aunt Buffy, and the original Scooby Gang destroyed the Hellmouth and saved the world from the First Evil. These days, life in New Sunnydale is blissfully quiet. Frankie is just trying to survive her sophomore year at the rebuilt high school and use her budding magical powers to make the world a better place.

But that world is suddenly plunged into danger when the slayer community is the target of a deadly attack, leaving the future of the line uncertain. Then Frankie discovers she’s sort of freakishly strong. Oh, and there’s something Willow never told her about her true identity.

Cue the opening credits.

Quicker than she can carve a stake, Frankie discovers there’s more to saving the world than witty one-liners and stupid hot demons. now everyone looks to her for answers, but speaking up has never been her strong suit. And it’s hard to be taken seriously when your mom is such a powerful witch she almost ended the world once, while your greatest magic trick is recycling.

Despite the many challenges standing in her way, Frankie must assemble her own bumbling Scooby Gang, get dressed up in Buffy’s (vintage ’90s) clothes, and become a new slayer for a new generation—before whatever came for the rest of the slayers comes for her next.

(POST-IT SAYS: At my house, we watch Buffy and Angel on an endless loop, so of course I loved this new addition to the Scoobies canon. Did I read this with a critical eye? No. Did I love being back in Sunnydale and want more? Yes. Good thing two more books are to come.)

Just Roll with It: (A Graphic Novel) by Veronica Agarwal, Lee Durfey-Lavoie (ISBN-13: 9781984896995 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 12/14/2021 Series: Just Roll with It #1, Ages 8-12)

Starting middle school is hard enough when you don’t know anyone; it’s even harder when you’re shy. A contemporary middle-grade graphic novel for fans of Guts and Real Friends about how dealing with anxiety and OCD can affect everyday life.

As long as Maggie rolls the right number, nothing can go wrong…right?

Maggie just wants to get through her first year of middle school. But between finding the best after-school clubs, trying to make friends, and avoiding the rumored monster on school grounds, she’s having a tough time…so she might need a little help from her twenty-sided dice. But what happens if Maggie rolls the wrong number?

A touching middle-grade graphic novel that explores the complexity of anxiety, OCD, and learning to trust yourself and the world around you.

(POST-IT SAYS: I love that this addresses getting help for mental health health issues (OCD and anxiety), that Maggie’s whole family is so great, and that we see her make new friends and join a club. Really great, complex story and fantastic art. Hope to see a lot more from this pair!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(POST-IT SAYS: I can think of so many kids at work who will love this gentle story with a very spirited main character. If your Judy Moody or Clementine read alouds need an update, try Harriet. Good for 2nd and 3rd grades.)

Just Right Jillian by Nicole D. Collier (ISBN-13: 9780358434610 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 02/01/2022, Ages 8-12)

In this heartfelt middle-grade novel from debut author Nicole D. Collier, fifth-grader Jillian must learn to speak and break free of her shell to enter her school’s academic competition and keep her promise to her grandmother. 

Fifth-grader Jillian will do just about anything to blend in, including staying quiet even when she has the right answer. After she loses a classroom competition because she won’t speak up, she sets her mind on winning her school’s biggest competition. But breaking out of her shell is easier said than done, and Jillian has only a month to keep her promise to her grandmother and prove to herself that she can speak up and show everyone her true self. 

A warm and relatable middle-grade debut novel about family, friendship, and finding the confidence to break free from the crowd and be who you truly are. 

(POST-IT SAYS: Oh, sweet Jillian—I see you. Great story about learning to speak up, to believe in yourself, to not allow yourself to be invisible. Shy and with social anxiety, Jillian works through her fears and makes her own path. Authentic and a real delight.)

Book Mail: Time travel, a hockey romance, the power in being difficult, and more!

You know, it was months and months ago, probably even more than a year ago, that I was first like, “Book mail is about the only good thing going these days, because pandemic.” And guess what? Here we are, almost two entire years into this mess, and I still feel the same way. As a person with an anxiety disorder, my anxiety motor has been spinning so fast for so long that I’m not sure I will know what to do if it ever begins to slow down. So I find comfort in small delights and bits of normalcy. Books showing up here provide both. Thank you, publishers!

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.

Spin Me Right Round by David Valdes (ISBN-13: 9781547607105 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 01/04/2022, Ages 12-17)

From lauded writer David Valdes, a sharp and funny YA novel that’s Back to the Future with a twist, as a gay teen travels back to his parents’ era to save a closeted classmate’s life.

All Luis Gonzalez wants is to go to prom with his boyfriend, something his “progressive” school still doesn’t allow. Not after what happened with Chaz Wilson. But that was ages ago, when Luis’s parents were in high school; it would never happen today, right? He’s determined to find a way to give his LGBTQ friends the respect they deserve (while also not risking his chance to be prom king, just saying…).

When a hit on the head knocks him back in time to 1985 and he meets the doomed young Chaz himself, Luis concocts a new plan-he’s going to give this guy his first real kiss. Though it turns out a conservative school in the ’80s isn’t the safest place to be a gay kid. Especially with homophobes running the campus, including Gordo (aka Luis’s estranged father). Luis is in over his head, trying not to make things worse-and hoping he makes it back to present day at all.

In a story that’s fresh, intersectional, and wickedly funny, David Valdes introduces a big-mouthed, big-hearted queer character that readers won’t soon forget.

Food-Related Stories by Gaby Melian, Ashley Lukashevsky (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780593223499 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 01/18/2022 Series: Pocket Change Collective, Ages 12-17)

“Gaby Melian tells so many stories through her relationship with food—about love, about loss, about hard work, and about finding her passion. The pages are dripping with delicious smells and tastes, and will give you a new way to look at both cooking and what it means to have a plan.” —Molly Birnbaum, editor in chief, America’s Test Kitchen Kids

In this moving, personal account, chef and activist Gaby Melian shares her journey with food and how creating a relationship with food — however simple or complicated — is a form of activism in its own right.

Pocket Change Collective was born out of a need for space. Space to think. Space to connect. Space to be yourself. And this is your invitation to join us. This is a series of small books with big ideas from today’s leading activists and artists.

“Food rescued me so many other times — not only because I sold food to survive. I cook to entertain; I cook to be liked; I cook to be loved.” In this installment, chef and activist Gaby Melian shares her personal journey with food — from growing up in Argentina to her time as a Jersey City street vendor and later, as Bon Appetit‘s test kitchen manager. Powerful and full of heart, here, Melian explores how we can develop a relationship with food that’s healthy, sustainable, and thoughtful.

Icebreaker by A. L. Graziadei (ISBN-13: 9781250777119 Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR) Publication date: 01/18/2022, Ages 14-18)

A. L. Graziadei’s Icebreaker is an irresistible YA debut about two hockey players fighting to be the best—and the romance that catches them by surprise along the way.

Seventeen-year-old Mickey James III is a college freshman, a brother to five sisters, and a hockey legacy. With a father and a grandfather who have gone down in NHL history, Mickey is almost guaranteed the league’s top draft spot.

The only person standing in his way is Jaysen Caulfield, a contender for the #1 spot and Mickey’s infuriating (and infuriatingly attractive) teammate. When rivalry turns to something more, Mickey will have to decide what he really wants, and what he’s willing to risk for it.

This is a story about falling in love, finding your team (on and off the ice), and choosing your own path.

The Deep Blue Between by Ayesha Harruna Attah (ISBN-13: 9781728442884 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 03/01/2022, Ages 12+)

Twin sisters Hassana and Husseina have always shared their lives.

But after a raid on their village in 1892, the twins are torn apart. Taken in different directions, far from their home in rural West Africa, each sister finds freedom and a new start. Hassana settles in in the city of Accra, where she throws herself into working for political and social change. Husseina travels to Salvador, Brazil, where she becomes immersed in faith, worshipping spirits that bridge the motherland and the new world. Separated by an ocean, they forge new families, ward off dangers, and begin to truly know themselves.

As the twins pursue their separate paths, they remain connected through their shared dreams. But will they ever manage to find each other again?

The Color of the Sky Is the Shape of the Heart by Chesil, Takami Nieda (Translator) (ISBN-13: 9781641292290 Publisher: Soho Press, Incorporated Publication date: 04/05/2022, Ages 13-17)

Now in translation for the first time, the award-winning debut that broke literary ground in Japan explores diaspora, prejudice, and the complexities of a teen girl’s experience growing up as a Zainichi Korean, reminiscent of Min Jin Lee’s classic Pachinko and Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street.

Seventeen-year-old Ginny Park is about to get expelled from high school—again. Stephanie, the picture book author who took Ginny into her Oregon home after she was kicked out of school in Hawaii, isn’t upset; she only wants to know why. But Ginny has always been in-between. She can’t bring herself to open up to anyone about her past, or about what prompted her to flee her native Japan. Then, Ginny finds a mysterious scrawl among Stephanie’s scraps of paper and storybook drawings that changes everything: The sky is about to fall. Where do you go?

Ginny sets off on the road in search of an answer, with only her journal as a confidante. In witty and brutally honest vignettes, and interspersed with old letters from her expatriated family in North Korea, Ginny recounts her adolescence growing up Zainichi, an ethnic Korean born in Japan, and the incident that forced her to leave years prior. Inspired by her own childhood, author Chesil creates a portrait of a girl who has been fighting alone against barriers of prejudice, nationality, and injustice all her life—and one searching for a place to belong.

Gold Mountain by Betty G. Yee (ISBN-13: 9781728415826 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 04/05/2022, Ages 12+)

Working on the Transcontinental Railroad promises a fortune—for those who survive.

Growing up in 1860s China, Tam Ling Fan has lived a life of comfort. Her father is wealthy enough to provide for his family but unconventional enough to spare Ling Fan from the debilitating foot-binding required of most well-off girls. But Ling Fan’s life is upended when her brother dies of influenza and their father is imprisoned under false accusations. Hoping to earn the money that will secure her father’s release, Ling Fan disguises herself as a boy and takes her brother’s contract to work for the Central Pacific Railroad Company in America.

Life on “the Gold Mountain” is grueling and dangerous. To build the railroad that will connect the west coast to the east, Ling Fan and other Chinese laborers lay track and blast tunnels through the treacherous peaks of the Sierra Nevada, facing cave-ins, avalanches, and blizzards—along with hostility from white Americans.

When someone threatens to expose Ling Fan’s secret, she must take an even greater risk to save what’s left of her family . . . and to escape the Gold Mountain alive.

How to Be a Difficult Bitch: Claim Your Power, Ditch the Haters, and Feel Good Doing It by Halley Bondy, Mary C. Fernandez, Sharon Lynn Pruitt-Young, Zara Hanawalt (ISBN-13: 9781541586758 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 04/05/2022, Ages 14+)

In the past, being a “difficult bitch” was bad. Girls weren’t supposed to call people out for their BS, stand up for themselves, or do their own thing. This book embraces the insult with irreverent humor, encouraging readers to be themselves no matter what, including an exploration of the ways this phrase can be interpreted differently among people of different backgrounds.

Being a powerhouse is a choice. It’s a lifestyle. It’s a code of ethics. It takes work, a thick skin, and perseverance. In this book, you’ll learn the ins and outs of being a Difficult Bitch, from school to friends to body to life.

Attention Hijacked: Using Mindfulness to Reclaim Your Brain from Tech by Erica B. Marcus (ISBN-13: 9781728417196 Publisher: Lerner Publishing Group Publication date: 05/03/2022, Ages 13+)

Technology surrounds us every day: a phone alarm wakes us up, an electronic calendar tracks assignment deadlines, GPS directs us to the new dentist’s office, social media keeps us connected to friends and family, and streaming platforms make sure we’re never without something new to binge-watch. Our devices and apps can make life much more convenient and entertaining.

But for years, scientists have warned that too much screen time may have negative effects on our health. With portable devices and remote learning, it is even more difficult to put down electronics. Being intentional about how and when to unplug can help teens and young adults to protect their physical and mental wellbeing in a world where screens and technology are increasingly becoming necessities rather than just conveniences.

Attention Hijacked offers a roadmap for those deciding how they want to deal with technology, exploring the ways technology affects the individual, dispelling common misinformation, and using this knowledge to make personalized decisions. Page Plus links in the book lead to mindfulness and meditation audio clips. Using mindfulness techniques, this book gives readers the power to take charge of their technology use.

The Language of Seabirds by Will Taylor (ISBN-13: 9781338753738 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 07/19/2022, Ages 8-12)

A sweet, tender middle-grade story of two boys finding first love with each other over a seaside summer.

Jeremy is not excited about the prospect of spending the summer with his dad and his uncle in a seaside cabin in Oregon. It’s the first summer after his parents’ divorce, and he hasn’t exactly been seeking alone time with his dad. He doesn’t have a choice, though, so he goes… and on his first day takes a walk on the beach and finds himself intrigued by a boy his age running by. Eventually, he and Runner Boy (Evan) meet — and what starts out as friendship blooms into something neither boy is expecting… and also something both boys have been secretly hoping for.

The Honeys by Ryan La Sala (ISBN-13: 9781338745313 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 08/02/2022, Ages 14-18)

From Ryan La Sala, the wildly popular author of Reverie, comes a twisted and tantalizing horror novel set amidst the bucolic splendor of a secluded summer retreat.

Mars has always been the lesser twin, the shadow to his sister Caroline’s radiance. But when Caroline dies under horrific circumstances, Mars is propelled to learn all he can about his once-inseparable sister who’d grown tragically distant.

Mars’s genderfluidity means he’s often excluded from the traditions — and expectations — of his politically-connected family. This includes attendance at the prestigious Aspen Conservancy Summer Academy where his sister poured so much of her time. But with his grief still fresh, he insists on attending in her place.

What Mars finds is a bucolic fairytale not meant for him. Folksy charm and sun-drenched festivities camouflage old-fashioned gender roles and a toxic preparatory rigor. Mars seeks out his sister’s old friends: a group of girls dubbed the Honeys, named for the beehives they maintain behind their cabin. They are beautiful and terrifying — and Mars is certain they’re connected to Caroline’s death.

But the longer he stays at Aspen, the more the sweet mountain breezes give way to hints of decay. Mars’s memories begin to falter, bleached beneath the relentless summer sun. Something is hunting him in broad daylight, toying with his mind. If Mars can’t find it soon, it will eat him alive.

How to use social media as a force for good, a guest post by Crystal Maldonado

Since I was in elementary school, I’ve been on social media—first via America Online, then on websites like Livejournal and Tumblr. It was considered quirky then, but now the entire world seems to perpetually be on social media—sharing memes, consuming news, making connections, creating art, arguing, or posting think pieces on “Encanto” (yes, I will be reading every single one, thank you very much). 

It was my long-standing appreciation for social media that helped spark the idea for my sophomore YA novel NO FILTER AND OTHER LIES. I wanted to create a character whose obsession with social media goes a little too far and also highlight the pressures of existing in that digital space as a teen. 

The result is the story of a 17-year-old fat, Puerto Rican girl named Kat Sanchez who gets swept up in the thrill of Instagram, going so far as to steal a friend’s photos and creates an entirely new identity on the app. The validation, appreciation for her art, and acceptance from her followers are too much to pass up—to the detriment of her own self-identity and worth. 

In my heart, I really feel for Kat. Haven’t we all found ourselves wishing at one point or another that we could magically become someone else, even for a moment? 

For me, these feelings can sometimes bubble up in times when I least expect it, like when I’m scrolling through my social feed and it feels like every other person in the world is out living their best life, traveling, going out with friends, eating a delicious meal, or capturing a flawless selfie. Meanwhile, there I am in my pajamas, with my hair a mess, and chomping on some of my toddler’s leftover goldfish crackers. Not exactly glam. 

In moments like those, I remind myself that every single social media post is a simple snapshot of a perfectly curated moment in time. I should know. For nearly a decade, it was my job to create those posts. But there’s a reason the “Instagram vs. Reality” trend has taken off on social, like this photoshoot I did for my book FAT CHANCE, CHARLIE VEGA.

What we see on our social media feeds is very rarely real. Yet even when we cognitively know that, it can sometimes be hard to remember, which is why I think it’s important to put in the work and make our social media experiences as positive as possible. 

Here’s how. 

Tips for using social media as a force for good

  1. Curate your feed. Consider: What are the things you love? What are your passions or hobbies? What makes you happy? Actively seek out accounts, users, hashtags, and communities that celebrate those things, you, and your existence and hit that follow button. For me, that means my feed contains a healthy mix of posts by friends and loved ones, fat fashion influencers, bookstagrammers, artists, Latinx-owned businesses, and Beyoncé (obviously). 
  2. Set limits. There’s nothing wrong with taking a break from social media, however big or small. I’m a perpetual scroller, so I get that it can feel like we need to be on all the time, but sometimes the best thing to do is to put your phone down and do something else. When you come back to social, you’ll be in a better headspace and appreciate what you’re seeing. 
  3. Use your profiles to create your own highlight reel—and use it for you. People often say social media isn’t “real” because it hides the ugly and hard parts and simply highlights the good in someone’s life.. I say we thoughtfully use that idea on our profiles as a way to remind us of the positive things in our lives. It might seem a little silly, but as someone who has a tendency to get a little in my head about, well, everything, I try my best to post things that genuinely make me smile. Then, in moments of darkness, I can look back on my posts as a reminder of all of the beauty and light in my life. 
  4. Unapologetically delete, mute, and unfollow. If there’s something or someone that pops in your feed that makes you feel bad about yourself, questions your worth, or overall gives off bad vibes, don’t hesitate to delete, block, unfollow, and move on. Your social media is for you and you alone. Forget everyone and everything else. 
  5. Never, ever catfish. It’s always better to be yourself. Take it from Kat Sanchez. 

Though social media can sometimes cause stress, it can also let light into our lives, if we let it. 

For every troll insistent on driving wedges between us, there’s someone finding a community that finally feels like home, old friends reconnecting over a shared passion, or a brave soul using their voice for the first time. No filter needed.

Meet the author

Crystal Maldonado is a young adult author with a lot of feelings. Her debut novel, Fat Chance, Charlie Vega, is a 2021 New England Book Award winner, a Cosmopolitan Best New Book, and a POPSUGAR Best New YA Novel. Her next novel, No Filter and Other Lies, explores teenage life in the social media age—and the lies we tell to ourselves and others.

By day, Crystal works in higher ed marketing, and by night, a writer who loves Beyoncé, shopping, spending too much time on her phone, and being extra. Her work has also been published in Latina, BuzzFeed, and the Hartford Courant.

She lives in western Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and dog. Find her everywhere @crystalwrote or crystalwrote.com.

About No Filter and Other Lies

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

Except it’s all fake.          

Max is actually 17-year-old Kat Sanchez, a quiet and sarcastic teenager living in drab Bakersfield, California. Nothing glamorous in her existence—just sprawl, bad house parties, a crap school year, and the awkwardness of dealing with her best friend Hari’s unrequited love.

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

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

But it might already be too late.

ISBN-13: 9780823447183
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 02/08/2022
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Creating (Super) Powerful Characters for Kids, a guest post by Shawn Peters

Has anyone ever asked you the question, “If you could have one superpower… what would it be?”

I’ve had the conversation many times in my life, and not just because I wrote a middle grade superhero adventure called THE UNFORGETTABLE LOGAN FOSTER. No, this is something I’ve hashed out with friends growing up, college pals and coworkers. The reason why is because a person’s answer usually says something about them.

People who wish they could fly might be thrill seekers to would love to zoom over the clouds (or at least avoid the security line at airports.) Folks who wish for mental powers are often those who value deep thought and a cerebral point of view. And people who choose invisibility might tend to be a hint shy, with no need for the spotlight.

In short, imagining superpowers is a way of expressing who we are, or at very lease, who we’d like to be.

The creators of many of your favorite superheroes and supervillains have known this for a hundred years, and that’s why they so often have aligned their characters’ powers with their personalities and priorities.

Peter Parker’s webs let him “hang out” in his community, literally attached to the buildings in his area, which makes him the “friendly neighborhood Spiderman.”

Wonder Woman may be strong and fast, but it’s her lasso that forces people to speak honestly, even if they don’t want to. This is a golden symbole of her core belief in the strength of the truth.  

Tony Stark was a famously distant genius and billionaire long before he put on a suit of high-tech armor as Iron Man.

Magneto may be able to draw any metal toward him, but what makes him truly special is the way he draws rebellious mutants to his cause. He is a magnetic figure, even when he isn’t using his x-factor.

None of this is by accident. Writers who are creating superhuman characters know that these powers aren’t just a chance to create action and suspense. They’re an avenue for reinforcing their characters’ truest traits in the minds of young readers.

That’s why when I was developing the superhuman foster parents in my debut, long before I decided their superpowers or superhero names, I first thought about who they were and how my main character — 12 year old, Logan—would see them.

Margie, the foster mother, is Logan’s defender; she’s strong, disciplined and maternally protective of Logan. So, the idea of her having a layer of hidden, impervious metal in her skin that makes her turn completely silver, head-to-toe, in times of crisis just fits who she is. And because she’s the one that makes an effort to understand Logan’s mindset, her ability to speak telepathically also bolsters her personality traits in the narrative.

Gil, Logan’s foster father, is very different. He isn’t confident or focused when in non-hero situations, dealing with a stutter in his speaking cadence. And although he is highly technical, he’s got a penchant for puns. This all led me to decide that he needed to be a lightning-fast hero—quick with the wit and the way he moves–  whose molecules are only loosely held together by his will. It allows him to react in a flash while also having a hard time “holding it together” at times. His challenge as a hero and as a parent is to be present, despite that struggle for focus.

Even when I was decided who would be the first villain on the scene, I immediately reached for this kind of metaphorical super boost. Seismyxer causes intense earthquakes everywhere he goes. Who better to be the symbol of instability for Logan when his whole world is being literally and metaphorically shaken as he discovers that superheroes are real?

Then there’s the true BBEG – Big Bad Evil Gal in gamer terms—of the book, Necros. She takes the life of anyone or anything she touches. Now that’s a nasty superpower, but it’s also fitting because just as Logan is starting to envision the possibility of being part of a family and having real friends, she threatens to take that life away.

Now, does all of this mean that every superhero’s power has to be a not-so-thinly-veiled metaphor for how the author wants you to see them? Of course not. Reading too much into Reid Richards’ (aka “Mr. Fantastic”) rubber body is truly a “stretch.” But the fact is, for authors, every element of a character’s appearance, voice, perspective, and style is an opportunity to tell the reader exactly who they are. Why would we ever pass that up a chance to unmask key elements of heroes and villains while using their powers?

So, whether you’re reader enjoying a comic book or novel, or a writer looking to strengthen a story, don’t take superpowers for granted. Each one, if done right, might just have a secret identity… that tells you even more about the identity of each character.

Meet the author

 Photo credit Amy Schupler Veaner

Shawn Peters is a husband and a father of two living in Metrowest Massachusetts who has written a little bit about a lot of things in a lot of places. His career includes ads for for massive brands, fantasy sports articles for ESPN, TV scripts for makeover shows and police chases, and even essays about domestic date-nights that ran on the back page of The Boston Globe Sunday Magazine. On January 18th, his debut MG superhero adventure novel, “The Unforgettable Logan Foster”  will be published  by Harper Collins Childrens.

Website: www.ShawnPetersWrites.com
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ShawnTweeters
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57698605-the-unforgettable-logan-foster-1
Launch Event: https://www.anunlikelystory.com/peters
Signed First Edition Link: https://aesopsfable.com/products/the-unforgettable-logan-foster-1

About The Unforgettable Logan Foster

Packed with superheroes, supervillains, and epic showdowns between good and evil, TheUnforgettable Logan Foster from debut author Shawn Peter shows that sometimes being a hero is just about being yourself.

Logan Foster has pretty much given up on the idea of ever being adopted. It could have something to with his awkward manner, his photographic memory, or his affection for reciting curious facts, but whatever the cause, Logan and his “PP’s” (prospective parents) have never clicked

Then everything changes when Gil and Margie arrive. Although they aren’t exactly perfect themselves—Gil has the punniest sense of humor and Margie’s cooking would have anyone running for the hills—they genuinely seem to care.

But it doesn’t take Logan long to notice some very odd things about them. They are out at all hours, they never seem to eat, and there’s a part of the house that is protected by some pretty elaborate security.

No matter what Logan could have imagined, nothing prepared him for the truth: His PP’s are actually superheroes, and they’re being hunted down by dastardly forces. Logan’s found himself caught in the middle in a massive battle and the very fate of the world may hang in the balance. Will Logan be able to find a way to save the day and his new family? 

ISBN-13: 9780063047679
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/18/2022
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Catalog of Inspirations, a guest post by Zach Smith

Hey there, faithful reader. I know you’ve been eagerly awaiting to hear from me, your favorite author, America’s sweetheart, Zach Smith.  Author of the Dolphin Girl series of graphic novels. Well the wait is FRIGGIN’ OVER!

I could write something very profound, or very thoughtful (I tried, this is like the 3rd draft) about the making and meaning behind Dolphin Girl.  But instead I’ve compiled a short catalog of places and things that inspired the world of Dolphin Girl.  

So take my metaphorical hand and follow me, ON THE JOURNEY OF A LIFETIME (The author runs away into the distance and we never see or hear from him again).

Ceasarland

I have an Uncle that once told me “People were always getting in fights at Caesarland.” I don’t remember that happening but I do remember the restaurant, which was Little Caesar’s own version of Chuck E. Cheese.  It had a person dressed as the Little Caesar character, play structures, THE WORKS, but it was all very ‘low rent’ and maybe a little dirty, and I’m pretty sure it only existed in Detroit, which was where Little Caesars was headquartered.  This OBVIOUSLY very special place was the main inspiration for Pizza Paradise.

Munch’s Make Believe Band

The robotic band that used to exist within the Chuck E. Cheese restaurant pizza chain was the direct inspiration for the Funk Machines. 

Zubaz Pants

My dad wore them.  Captain Dugong wears them in the 90’s flashback scenes in the book. HECK I’m wearing them right now.  Anyway more people should be aware of these pants.  In that awareness, you should sit mindfully, let the loud patterns of the pants engulf you, engulf your spirit. 

The Uniroyal Tire

There is a very large tire that sits on the side of the I-94 highway between Detroit and Ann Arbor.  I used to work at a Michaels Arts and Crafts store near it.  I always thought it was so bizarre, it would get all covered in snow in the winter, and there was no signage or anything to let you know why the tire was there.  Upon further research I found out that it used to be a tire shaped ferris wheel from one of the World’s Fairs and now it just sits there, quietly, looming. This tire features in a few scenes of the 2nd book.

West Oaks II Plaza

I later transferred to another Michaels in a strip mall in Novi, MI.  It was called West Oaks II Plaza and it was directly across from the Twelve Oaks Mall.  This was the last job I had before moving to LA to work in animation – although they did say that I could be management material, VERY TEMPTING. It was in this space that I think I started to put together a world of endless strip malls, parking lots, municipal golf courses, and garbage hills. Sometimes I think in times of great anxiety and anticipation of what’s to come I will become nostalgic for the place I am currently rooted.  When I know that one day I will not live here, one day I may never be back here.  So I start to miss the place before it’s even gone.  I think this leaves me open, and the sense of places just permeates me.  IT STICKS!

Anyway, maybe all this information will be helpful when you’re reading the books, or maybe not. IT’S IN YOUR HANDS DEAR READER!

Meet the author

Photo credit: Sayoko Cox

Zach Smith is a cartoonist, author, illustrator, and show creator. Currently, he is creating an upcoming show for Nick Jr. and works as a storyboard artist in the animation industry. Zach lives in the suburbs of Los Angeles with his wife, two daughters, and two dogs. Before becoming a professional artist, he delivered pizza for a living. Dolphin Girl is his first graphic novel series.

Social Media: @zachsmithdraws on Instagram

Website: http://www.zachattackary.com/

About Dolphin Girl 2: Eye of the Baloney Storm

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

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

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

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

ISBN-13: 9781645950202
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 01/18/2022
Series: Dolphin Girl #2
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Tough Terrain: Why & How I Craft Story for Connection & Compassion, a guest post by Heather Mateus Sappenfield

“How then might storytelling earn its adaptive keep?” asks noted science writer Brian Greene in Until the End of Time. Exploring the evolution of sharing stories on a purely scientific level, he posits several theories. Among these, that story allows us to practice experiences prior to encountering them, aiding survival. Another theory states that story allows us to gather information about others (the roots of gossip), also facilitating survival. There’s certainly been proof of late that reading fiction generates empathy, and the more literary and realistic the narrative, the more empathy it generates. And empathy leads to understanding, compassion, even kindness. As an author, my instinct (and hope) is that reading stories offers a blend of these elements, so I craft my narratives toward this end.

                Tweens running in hallway, licensed via Shutterstock

Younger readers, with their agile minds, are primed for these experiences as they decipher and define their worlds and their roles within them. Adults frequently try to shield kids from life’s difficulties. But here’s the rub: Kids usually hear about them anyway, through snippets of adult conversation, the media, or interactions among peers. Often these moments comprise their first, impressionable experiences with challenging topics, shaping the adults they become. By reading books that explore difficult issues, kids have the opportunity to learn about, experience vicariously, and practice mentally, these hard subjects in nurturing ways, preparing them for positive encounters later in life. Young Adult and especially Middle Grade books are often dismissed as simple, yet they are vital seeds for fertile minds. With The River Between Hearts, I learned that writing a MG novel that explores tough terrain is no easy task.

The paradox of writing for younger readers, especially with first-person narration, is that…well…I’m older. Much older. So before I could begin writing this book, I spent over a year getting to know my protagonist, almost-eleven-year-old Rill, and her friend Perla. Along the way, I hung out with live kids their age, listening, observing, and noticing, especially what I didn’t hear or see. Frequently in MG books, the protagonist has special powers or is highly intelligent, a genius even, and quite mature, and the story revolves around these special attributes solving the riddles of the world. I love, love books like this, yet because my book would explore difficult topics occurring in our world today and because I hoped to generate the most empathy, I wanted the characters to seem real.

For example, kids, a lot of teens and, yes, many adults, don’t discuss their emotions. Usually they don’t even fully understand them. So if they do encounter them, it’s through physical sensations or actions. This lack of self-awareness became the major conflict for Rill as she dealt with the loss of her dad. Once I realized this, I knew she’d be an unreliable narrator. Not by design, but by unconscious denial. This realization lifted the lid on a marvelous tool kit.

                Silhouette at sunset, licensed via Shutterstock

With Rill in denial, I could write about grief in a nuanced way, providing clues for the reader that are revealed via her naïve actions and revelations. Mistakes were imperative, they’re how we learn, so Rill makes many—in her speech, her actions, her relationships. Stuck in denial, bad at school and words, Rill becomes an unintimidating guide for readers who understand more than she does. When she barrels toward a mistake, the reader knows better, and this creates suspense. By keeping Rill’s vocabulary and intellect realistic and by having her discover things through action rather than a special gift, I could draw upon her senses, inviting the reader in physically, and this sets the stage for deeper empathy. As with the real world, the story offers no simple answers; tidiness would have fractured its integrity. My hope is that upon this unintimidating footing, readers can then explore immigration and grief and their consequences for kids as kids would realistically view and experience them. Ironically, I’ve had the pleasure of glowing reviews from older teens and adults, who, because of this realism, are able to read the story with nostalgia.

All this took about five years of revising and tweaking and revising. Of checking with a lower school director to clarify that fourth-graders would use the word “lady” not “women;” of catching and eradicating the darned moments when my adult perspective or flowery language had crept in; of working with former immigrant students to get the details true. And herein lies a contradictory yet delicate aspect of craft: While the narrative remained honest in voice and action, it needed to be subtly guided by a nurturing, reassuring meta-narrator. This was the hardest part, instilled through sentence and story structures, consistent chapter length and the occasional subtle word. My hope is that The River Between Hearts creates safe, realistic terrain for Rill and Perla to learn, grow and adapt, and for younger readers (and readers of all ages) to learn, grow, and adapt with them.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Katherine Schmidt Photography

Heather Mateus Sappenfield has written two YA novels and a literary short story collection. Her books have earned many accolades, among them a MPIBA Reading the West Award nomination, a Ben Franklin Awards Silver Medal, an AudioFile Magazine Earphones Award, a SOVAS Awards Nomination, and finalist for the Colorado Book Awards. The River Between Hearts releases February 1 as runner-up for the Kraken Prize at Fitzroy Books.

Heather loves adventures, especially in the Rocky Mountain landscape that’s been her lifelong home. As part of women’s teams, she’s won 24-hour mountain bike races and road bicycling’s Race Across America—San Diego, California to Atlantic City, New Jersey. She’s also competed in the Mountain Bike World Championships; ski instructed for Vail Resorts; loves backcountry ski touring; and is a wife and mom. Her toughest and bravest adventures, though, occur while writing stories!

Website – https://heathermateussappenfield.com

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/HeatherMateusSappenfield

Twitter – https://twitter.com/alpineheather

About The River Between Hearts

On an ordinary Monday, Rill Kruse left for third grade with a dad, but when she came home, he’d been stolen. By a river. One year and thirteen days later—on the first morning of summer vacation—Rill still insists he’s on his way back home.

When Rill’s cat, Clifford, leads her to the family tree fort on the mountainside, she discovers a stowaway, Perla, who appears to be on the run. As Rill considers the events that led Perla to this moment, she embarks on an adventure that tests her understanding of the world and forms a friendship that defies boundaries. The lessons Rill learns nudge her—and all those she loves—toward healing.

Runner-up for The Kraken Prize

ISBN-13: 9781646032068
Publisher: Fitzroy Press/Regal House Publishing
Publication date: 2/01/2022
Age Range: 9 – 14 Years

Book Review: Game On: 15 Stories of Wins, Losses, and Everything in Between edited by Laura Silverman

Publisher’s description

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.

Amanda’s thoughts

I love anthologies. And you know what? I know a lot of people are having a hard time finding the time/concentration/bandwidth to really get into a book or even finish a book. Anthologies are the perfect antidote to the that! Lots of short stories that will maybe lead you to discovering a new author to love—that’s a win!

You might be like me and think, sports, whatever, who cares? My interest in sports is non-existent. But my interest in reading about them is there! And guess what? This is actually more about games than sports—so expand whatever you’re thinking of to include card games, outdoor neighborhood hiding games, board games, puzzles, amusement park games, Spin the Bottle, and more. As you would hope and expect out of an anthology, there is a wide variety of representation here as far as sexuality, race, and other identities. As I’ve said before, reviewing anthologies is kind of difficult, especially when you’re not going to detail every story included/review them separately. More than anything, when I review anthologies it’s to point out, hey, this cool book exists, it might not be what you’re imagining when you see the title, and you should go check it out.

So, you know—go check it out! This book knocks it out of the park. Score!

Review copy (finished) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780593352786
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 01/18/2022
Age Range: 12 – 17 Years

Is There a Place in Publishing for Realistic Fiction About Middle School? A guest post by Hillary Frank

When I sold my first novel in 1999 and my editor told me she wanted to publish it as YA, I was confused. Why would we limit our audience to teens? Better Than Running at Night was about a college freshman; I was a recent college grad. I figured I was writing a book for people my age. 

Once the book was published, though, I discovered how rewarding it is to write for teens. For one thing, you can’t beat their fan mail. I received passionate letters from kids saying that Better Than Running at Night made them feel seen, that it changed their lives. Helped them get out of emotionally abusive relationships. One girl told me the book meant so much to her that she stole it from her library! I loved visiting schools, doing writing workshops, and hearing kids tell their own powerful and surprising stories about growing up. I fully embraced the YA label and published two more novels geared toward older teens. 

But then I hit a roadblock. My fourth book idea was about middle school — which, according to traditional publishing, would classify it as middle grade.

The problem was, I wanted to write about real middle school. The middle school that I remembered. The middle school that I never saw reflected in novels when I was a kid. I wanted to write about cliques and bullying. Slut-shaming and prude-shaming. Intense schoolyard debates about sex acts. I wanted to write about periods and body changes and how those body changes often come with unwanted attention from creepy boys — and, worse, creepy men. I wanted to write about how entering adulthood felt like a sort of death. A sudden permanent goodbye to your childhood self. I wanted to write about all of this stuff using the real language that twelve and thirteen-year-olds use — and let’s be honest, that includes cursing.

Here Lies Me would capture the brutality of middle school. It would help kids who felt isolated — and, perhaps like me, found it difficult to relate to books that softened the edges of adolescence. It would give those kids hope that despite how bleak middle school can feel, it’s still possible to find your voice and to find friends.

When I pitched the book to my agent, 15 years ago now, he said that if I wanted to write a story this dark I would need to age the characters up to high school so that it could be classified as YA. I liked the idea of the book being classified as YA but I didn’t want to age the characters up. The whole point of this project was to talk about the realities of middle school. So I set Here Lies Me aside. In fact, I set book-writing aside entirely.

And I was left wondering: If realistic fiction about middle school can’t be for adults and it can’t be for kids, where does it belong? Is the answer really nowhere?

It took me around twelve years to realize that maybe Here Lies Me did belong somewhere, and that somewhere was podcasting. I had spent the last couple of decades working in audio — first freelancing for public radio shows like This American Life, Studio360, and Marketplace, then launching my own podcast, The Longest Shortest Time. With Longest Shortest, I became one of the first people to make a living in podcasting. The show was about parenthood but made for a general audience. Early on, when I was shopping the show around, gatekeepers in the industry questioned the concept. They saw parenthood as a niche topic that would appeal only to parents of young children. But Longest Shortest grew quickly and developed a diverse and highly engaged audience that included many non-parents. Listeners without kids told me the show helped them to understand their own parents better and to relate to their friends who had kids. Over the nine years that the show ran, I covered everything from transgender pregnancy to discrimination against mothers in the workplace to a grown man asking his mom for the truth about her sex life. People didn’t tune in to Longest Shortest for parenting content; they tuned in for compelling stories.

I was able to make a boundary-breaking show like Longest Shortest because unlike the book world, podcasting has no rules. Sure, a lot of podcasts sound the same. But you really do have the freedom to try anything. And the categories are broad. You want to know how fiction gets divvied up in the podcast charts? It doesn’t! It’s all just housed under “fiction.” As a creator, you can interpret “fiction” any way you’d like. So far, most people have interpreted it to mean “sci-fi” or “horror.” But I decided to interpret it as “weird, dark dramedy about middle school.” In 2019, I got a residency to develop the pilot for Here Lies Me — and in 2021 I partnered with Lemonada Media to bring the show to life.

Lemonada was excited to support me in my mission: to make the first realistic fiction podcast about middle school — and to make that show appeal to both teens and adults. Here Lies Me launched in November and it sounds pretty different from other fiction podcasts. Our main characters are not played by celebrities; they’re teens who missed out on their performance programs due to the pandemic. Our sound design isn’t canned; it’s custom. The entire show is scored with drumming by my eleven-year-old daughter who coincidentally started middle school this year. And yes, there is cursing and an intense schoolyard dispute about sex acts. (The show is marked as explicit in podcast apps and begins with a mature content warning.)

The Here Lies Me cast singing Hava Nagila for the final episode

In retrospect, I’m glad that I waited to write Here Lies Me. Designing the story for audio forced me to innovate in ways that I may not have in print. Waiting also allowed time for TV shows like Big Mouth and PEN15 and the film Eighth Grade to pave the way for mature content about middle school. And then there was #MeToo. From the beginning, Here Lies Me was primarily about a girl trying to get a boy with an unrequited crush to stop bothering her. But the #MeToo movement gave me the word for this flavor of bothering: harassment. Once I had that word, I finally understood that the story I wanted to tell was about what harassment looks like in middle school and what happens when the harasser becomes a victim. I think it’s essential to talk about harassment in middle school because I believe that middle school is where harassment begins in earnest. My intent with this show is to encourage conversations about how we might address harassment in middle school, and to potentially stop future incidents of harassment, assault, and domestic abuse by reaching kids when they’re still young enough to be receptive to grown-ups. In order for a story to have that sort of cross-generational influence, it must appeal to both teens and adults.

I still would love to make a book version of Here Lies Me. A graphic novel is my dream — an experience as immersive for the eyes as the podcast is for the ears. But now, fifteen years after I shelved Here Lies Me, I still encounter people in the publishing industry asking where a book like this could possibly belong. I’m hearing that it’s too dark for kids… but that adults don’t want to read about kids. Well, why not? Why can’t kids read about what’s really happening in their lives? Why can we only expect them to read up and not about characters that are their actual age or slightly younger? Why shouldn’t adults read about stuff that happened in their childhood? Doesn’t reading help us to process past traumas? A few weeks ago, I received an Instagram message from a therapist who told me that she’s using Here Lies Me as a “soul balm” to help her clients process their own middle school experiences before their children enter middle school — and I also got a five-star Apple Podcasts review from an eighth grader praising the show because it “LITERALLY SEEMS SO REAL.”

Is there a place in publishing for literally real-seeming books about middle school? I hope so. Because otherwise the medium is missing out on a new category of powerful storytelling that the entertainment industry and podcasting have welcomed.

Meet the author

Photo credit: Natalie Chitwood

Hillary Frank is the creator of The Longest Shortest Time, an award-winning podcast about the surprises and absurdities of raising other humans — and Here Lies Me, a fiction podcast about harassment in middle school. She is also the author and illustrator of three young adult novels. Her latest book is Weird Parenting Wins: Bathtub Dining, Family Screams, and Other Hacks from the Parenting Trenches. Hillary got her start in radio on This American Life with a story recorded entirely on a shiny red boombox and a microcassette answering machine.

Website: https://www.hillaryfrank.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/hillaryfrank

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

Listen and subscribe to Here Lies Me: https://link.chtbl.com/HereLiesMe?sid=toolkit

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