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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,

My Favorite Reads of 2021, by Teen Librarian Karen Jensen

I know it is now 2022 and most people have already shared their best of 2021 lists, but I have waited until now because I was a first round panelist for the Cybils and I wanted to wait until they made their announcements. If you aren’t familiar with the Cybils, they are an award for kid lit put out by various bloggers and online reviewers. They come in three stages. First stage, nominations are opened to the public. Then, when the nominees are all submitted, the first round panelists read all of the nominees and create a shortlist. That’s where I came in as I was one of the first round panelists who put together the shortlist for YA fiction. You can see that shortlist here. In the next round, a new group of judges will read the titles on the shortlist and pick a winner. In addition to my regular reading throughout the year, there were around 84 books nominated by the public for the Cybils YA Fiction category.

So here’s a look at my favorite YA reads of 2021. I will present them in no particular order except I will save my favorite for last.

The Girls I’ve Been by Tess Sharpe

I was aware of this book but hadn’t really been interested in reading it, though to be fair like many people the pandemic was very horrific for me and I had a harder time reading earlier in the year. But this book was one of the books I read for the Cybils and I am so glad that I read it because THIS IS A REALLY FASCINATING AND ENTERTAINING READ. It begins with a group of 3 teens going to the bank to make a deposit for a fundraiser they worked on. While there, the bank is robbed and they are all taken hostage. Unfortunately for the bank robbers, one of those teens was raised by a major con artist and they have mad skills that help them in this situation. What follows is a book that looks at this person’s past to help explain the skills they have now that help them survive and thwart the robbery. It’s a complex look at identity, a psychological thriller, and a heist novel all wrapped into one very entertaining package.

Publisher’s Book Description: A slick, twisty YA page-turner about the daughter of a con artist who is taken hostage in a bank heist.

Nora O’Malley’s been a lot of girls. As the daughter of a con-artist who targets criminal men, she grew up as her mother’s protégé. But when mom fell for the mark instead of conning him, Nora pulled the ultimate con: escape.

For five years Nora’s been playing at normal. But she needs to dust off the skills she ditched because she has three problems:

#1: Her ex walked in on her with her girlfriend. Even though they’re all friends, Wes didn’t know about her and Iris.

#2: The morning after Wes finds them kissing, they all have to meet to deposit the fundraiser money they raised at the bank. It’s a nightmare that goes from awkward to deadly, because:

#3: Right after they enter bank, two guys start robbing it.

The bank robbers may be trouble, but Nora’s something else entirely. They have no idea who they’re really holding hostage…

Cool for the Summer by Dahlia Adler

This book is on my list because of my teen, Riley. She picked this book off of a cart of ARCs as summer approached because she needed to read a book with joy, and she found it in these pages. When I asked her what she likes about it she says, “it’s just a vibe, you know. It was just a nice, entertaining book that brought me joy and didn’t make me depressed, which was exactly what I needed.” So for those of you who have teens looking for some joy on the page, we recommend Cool for the Summer.

Publisher’s Book Description: Lara’s had eyes for exactly one person throughout her three years of high school: Chase Harding. He’s tall, strong, sweet, a football star, and frankly, stupid hot. Oh, and he’s talking to her now. On purpose and everything. Maybe…flirting, even? No, wait, he’s definitely flirting, which is pretty much the sum of everything Lara’s wanted out of life.

Except she’s haunted by a memory. A memory of a confusing, romantic, strangely perfect summer spent with a girl named Jasmine. A memory that becomes a confusing, disorienting present when Jasmine herself walks through the front doors of the school to see Lara and Chase chatting it up in front of the lockers.

Lara has everything she ever wanted: a tight-knit group of friends, a job that borders on cool, and Chase, the boy of her literal dreams. But if she’s finally got the guy, why can’t she stop thinking about the girl?

Cool for the Summer is a story of self-discovery and new love. It’s about the things we want and the things we need. And it’s about the people who will let us be who we are. 

Eat Your Heart Out by Kelly DeVos

First, regularly long-time readers know that I love zombie books. And if the zombie book is funny and makes deep social commentary, even better. Here’s a book that tackles body positivity while taking down corporate corruption while also tackling zombies with humor.

Publisher’s Book Description: Shaun of the Dead meets Dumplin’ in this bitingly funny YA thriller about a kickass group of teens battling a ravenous group of zombies.

In the next few hours, one of three things will happen.

1–We’ll be rescued (unlikely)

2–We’ll freeze to death (maybe)

3–We’ll be eaten by thin and athletic zombies (odds: excellent)

Vivian Ellenshaw is fat, but she knows she doesn’t need to lose weight, so she’s none too happy to find herself forced into a weight-loss camp’s van with her ex-best friend, Allie, a meathead jock who can barely drive, and the camp owner’s snobby son. And when they arrive at Camp Featherlite at the start of the worst blizzard in the history of Flagstaff, Arizona, it’s clear that something isn’t right.

Vee barely has a chance to meet the other members of her pod, all who seem as unhappy to be at Featherlite as she does, when a camper goes missing down by the lake. Then she spots something horrifying outside in the snow. Something…that isn’t human. Plus, the camp’s supposed “miracle cure” for obesity just seems fishy, and Vee and her fellow campers know they don’t need to be cured. Of anything.

Even worse, it’s not long before Camp Featherlite’s luxurious bungalows are totally overrun with zombies. What starts out as a mission to unravel the camp’s secrets turns into a desperate fight for survival–and not all of the Featherlite campers will make it out alive.

A satirical blend of horror, body positivity, and humor, Kelly deVos’s witty, biting novel proves that everyone deserves to feel validated, and taking down the evil enterprise determined to dehumanize you is a good place to start.

How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao

It turns out, I love a good murder mystery and am a fan of teen gets killed at school/boarding school because of the extreme competition to get into college trope. There were several that have come out recently including They’ll Never Catch Us by Jessica Goodman (good, highly recommend) and The Ivies by Alexa Donne (also good, I also recommend). How We Fall Apart was the first one of many I read this year and it’s the first book in a series. It’s a good mystery and I look forward to reading more.

Editor’s Book Description:

Nancy Luo is shocked when her former best friend, Jamie Ruan, top ranked junior at Sinclair Prep, goes missing, and then is found dead. Nancy is even more shocked when word starts to spread that she and her friends–Krystal, Akil, and Alexander–are the prime suspects, thanks to “The Proctor,” someone anonymously incriminating them via the school’s social media app.

They all used to be Jamie’s closest friends, and she knew each of their deepest, darkest secrets. Now, somehow The Proctor knows them, too. The four must uncover the true killer before The Proctor exposes more than they can bear and costs them more than they can afford, like Nancy’s full scholarship. Soon, Nancy suspects that her friends may be keeping secrets from her, too.

Students at an elite prep school are forced to confront their secrets when their ex-best friend turns up dead.

The Nature of Witches by Rachel Griffin

This book takes a really unique twist on the idea of witches, mixes in some very relevant climate change concerns, and grapples eloquently with the nature of grief and guilty.

Publisher’s Book Description: For centuries, witches have maintained the climate, their power from the sun peaking in the season of their birth. But now their control is faltering as the atmosphere becomes more erratic. All hope lies with Clara, an Everwitch whose rare magic is tied to every season.

In Autumn, Clara wants nothing to do with her power. It’s wild and volatile, and the price of her magic―losing the ones she loves―is too high, despite the need to control the increasingly dangerous weather.

In Winter, the world is on the precipice of disaster. Fires burn, storms rage, and Clara accepts that she’s the only one who can make a difference.

In Spring, she falls for Sang, the witch training her. As her magic grows, so do her feelings, until she’s terrified Sang will be the next one she loses.

In Summer, Clara must choose between her power and her happiness, her duty and the people she loves… before she loses Sang, her magic, and thrusts the world into chaos.

Practical Magic meets Twister in this debut contemporary fantasy standalone about heartbreaking power, the terror of our collapsing atmosphere, and the ways we unknowingly change our fate. 

Never Saw You Coming by Erin Hahn

The adolescent years are when a lot of young people really wrestle with their faith. They tend to spend a lot of time analyzing the faith they’ve been brought up in and have to either internalize it in some personal way or reject it. Never Saw You Coming is a book that shows two teens grappling with their conservative Christian faith, purity culture, and who they choose to be and what they choose to believe as they move from their teen to their young adult years. It’s a very rich and nuanced look at faith that manages to affirm it in many ways while breaking it down in others. As a person who grew up in the church in the 90s and went on to get my undergraduate in youth ministry, I thought this was such a beautiful, realistic and compassionate look at this important life changing journey. Though it does affirm many aspects of the Christian faith, it also contains some very real discussions of sex that are intimate, beautiful and sexually positive, but you should know about them for those who don’t want any sex in their books, especially ones deemed Christian fiction. This was a beautiful book that was personally very resonant and moving.

Publisher’s Book Description: Raised by conservative parents, 18-year-old Meg Hennessey just found out her entire childhood was a lie. Instead of taking a gap year before college to find herself, she ends up traveling north to meet what’s left of the family she never knew existed.

While there, she meets Micah Allen, a former pastor’s kid whose dad ended up in prison, leaving Micah with his own complicated relationship about the church. The clock is ticking on Pastor Allen’s probation hearing and Micah, now 19, feels the pressure to forgive – even when he can’t possibly forget.

As Meg and Micah grow closer, they are confronted with the heavy flutterings of first love and all the complications it brings. Together, they must navigate the sometimes-painful process of cutting ties with childhood beliefs as they build toward something truer and straight from the heart.

In Erin Hahn’s Never Saw You Coming, sometimes it takes a leap of faith to find yourself. 

White Smoke by Tiffany D. Jackson

As far as I am concerned, everyone should read every book by author Tiffany D. Jackson and this is no exception. From the first page, this book is truly haunting. And then it takes you on a journey that you never imagined with all the twists and turns. It also deals really well with the topic of anxiety.

Publisher’s Book Description:

The Haunting of Hill House meets Get Out in this chilling YA psychological thriller and modern take on the classic haunted house story from New York Times bestselling author Tiffany D. Jackson!

Marigold is running from ghosts. The phantoms of her old life keep haunting her, but a move with her newly blended family from their small California beach town to the embattled Midwestern city of Cedarville might be the fresh start she needs. Her mom has accepted a new job with the Sterling Foundation that comes with a free house, one that Mari now has to share with her bratty ten-year-old stepsister, Piper.

The renovated picture-perfect home on Maple Street, sitting between dilapidated houses, surrounded by wary neighbors has its . . . secrets. That’s only half the problem: household items vanish, doors open on their own, lights turn off, shadows walk past rooms, voices can be heard in the walls, and there’s a foul smell seeping through the vents only Mari seems to notice. Worse: Piper keeps talking about a friend who wants Mari gone.

But “running from ghosts” is just a metaphor, right?

As the house closes in, Mari learns that the danger isn’t limited to Maple Street. Cedarville has its secrets, too. And secrets always find their way through the cracks.

Aetherbound by E. K. Johnston

Johnston writes one of my very favorite YA books that tackle both cheerleading and sexual assault, Exit, Pursued by a Bear. But she is perhaps more well known for her science fiction novels, including many set in the Star Wars universe. Aetherboun is a science fiction novel that tackles topics like scarcity and identity, with all the excitement of space that you hunger for. It’s everything you want in a science fiction novel while being nothing you would expect.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Set on a family-run interstellar freighter called the Harland and a mysterious remote space station, E. K. Johnston’s latest is story of survival and self-determination.

Pendt Harland’s family sees her as a waste of food on their long-haul space cruiser when her genes reveal an undesirable mutation. But if she plays her cards right she might have a chance to do much more than survive. During a space-station layover, Pendt escapes and forms a lucky bond with the Brannick twins, the teenage heirs of the powerful family that owns the station. Against all odds, the trio hatches a long-shot scheme to take over the station and thwart the destinies they never wished for.

Fire Keeper’s Daughter by Angeline Boulley

I started reading this book in early 2021 and kept remarking that it was such a realistic depiction of grief and then, in the midst of reading it, my father passed away and I had to set it aside because it became to real. But it was a Cybils nominee so I picked it back up to finish it. It continues to be one of the most realistic depictions of grief that really resonated with me. In addition, as someone with ties to Michigan, that’s where my father is from, the depiction of this area and the economic challenges and opioid epidemic they are facing are all too real. It’s also a great mystery that talks about things like family, friendship and identity. It really is a very well written book that deserves its place on this list.

Publisher’s Book Description:

As a biracial, unenrolled tribal member and the product of a scandal, eighteen-year-old Daunis Fontaine has never quite fit in, both in her hometown and on the nearby Ojibwe reservation. Daunis dreams of studying medicine, but when her family is struck by tragedy, she puts her future on hold to care for her fragile mother.

The only bright spot is meeting Jamie, the charming new recruit on her brother Levi’s hockey team. Yet even as Daunis falls for Jamie, certain details don’t add up and she senses the dashing hockey star is hiding something. Everything comes to light when Daunis witnesses a shocking murder, thrusting her into the heart of a criminal investigation.

Reluctantly, Daunis agrees to go undercover, but secretly pursues her own investigation, tracking down the criminals with her knowledge of chemistry and traditional medicine. But the deceptions—and deaths—keep piling up and soon the threat strikes too close to home.

Now, Daunis must learn what it means to be a strong Anishinaabe kwe (Ojibwe woman) and how far she’ll go to protect her community, even if it tears apart the only world she’s ever known.

Debut author Angeline Boulley crafts a groundbreaking YA thriller about a Native teen who must root out the corruption in her community, for readers of Angie Thomas and Tommy Orange.

Honorable Mentions

So before we get to my favorite read of 2021, I thought I would mention a few other books that I thought about adding to this list, but I tried to keep it to 10. Some of the books that almost made this list inlcude The Falling Girls by Hayley Krischer, Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilley Segal, Playing with Fire by April Henry, You’d Be Home Now by Kathleen Glasgow, and The Cuban Girl’s Guide to Tea and Tomorrow by Laura Taylor Namey.

And now, my favorite read of 2021 is . . .

In the Wild Light by Jeff Zentner

This book is, to me, quintessential and timeless YA. It plucks two teens, best friends who may actually be in love, from a life of economic hardship and puts them into a boarding school via scholarship. At school, they wrestle with identity, friendship, family, and more. In the Wild Light covers the year in the life of teens with emotional richness and nuance and a laser-sharp precision and intensity that any teen will find beats that resonate with them. The teens are from the Appalachia region, making this one of the few YA titles that give nuanced and positive representation to teens from this region. It deals with the economic poverty and opioid crisis of that region with respect, nuance and compassion. It’s just a very rich, compelling, moving read. Even some of the scenes included, such as an instance of sexual violence, are handled with tenderness and care and they add to the story because they are both realistic and deftly handled, and though the story isn’t about these types of moments, they add to the story because this is a story about teen life and the moments and emotions that make it. In the Wild Light is a profoundly moving and rich YA novel that will surely long live as one of the classics.

Publisher’s Book Description:

Life in a small Appalachian town is not easy. Cash lost his mother to an opioid addiction and his Papaw is dying slowly from emphysema. Dodging drug dealers and watching out for his best friend, Delaney, is second nature. He’s been spending his summer mowing lawns while she works at Dairy Queen.

But when Delaney manages to secure both of them full rides to an elite prep school in Connecticut, Cash will have to grapple with his need to protect and love Delaney, and his love for the grandparents who saved him and the town he would have to leave behind.

From the award-winning author of The Serpent King comes a beautiful examination of grief, found family, and young love.

2021 was a brutal year for all of us collectively and for my family personally, but books helped us navigate it. These are some of the ones that meant a lot to us on our journey through this year. Share some of yours in the comments.

My First Semester of College: By Teen Contributor Riley Jensen

Many of you have watched Riley grow up here at TLT and some of you actually helped us pay for her to go to Ohio University this first year with your generous donations. Today, she is writing and sharing with us all a bit about what that first semester in college was like.

I just got finished with my first semester of college and as some of you may know, it was really stressful. I got through the semester with my lowest grade being a B-, but there is still a lot that happened that I was not at all expecting. In addition to all the changes and a new environment, I started my first semester of college just having lost my grandfather, in the midst of a deadly global pandemic, and right before finals my childhood dog passed away. I loved college, but there was a lot of stuff that nobody prepared me for.

First of all, I got sick. A lot. It wasn’t Covid thankfully, but it was very annoying. I know it wasn’t Covid because the college had strict mandates and I tested whenever I came down with symptoms. They made it pretty easy to test. I don’t know if it was because I wasn’t taking the proper precautions or because I was living in close proximity with a bunch of people who went out nearly every night. Also, going to class sick is not fun. I thought I could make it through the first semester without getting sick, but I was sorely mistaken. I did learn one very important thing though: keeping Mucinex around is always a good idea because walking to CVS when your lungs are dying is not enjoyable.

Also, nobody is going to follow “quiet hours” at all. There is probably going to be someone at 1:00 in the morning talking about how annoyed they are with someone, which just made me annoyed with them. The RA’s didn’t really do anything about this, so now I can sleep through nearly anything. Those walls are thin, and there was a lot of stuff that I was like, “hmm that sounds an awful lot like,” you get the idea.

Then, there’s the drunk people. So many drunk people. There was one night where four people were just lying in the middle of the hallway and I had to step over their bodies to get to the bathroom. I was not expecting that many people to constantly be drinking, but it was definitely a thing that people did. This was definitely a new experience for me.

In the midst of all the negative aspects though, there was so many positive aspects that none of the negative mattered. I have grown to look forward to craft nights on Thursday and brunch on Sundays. I have made close friends, one of them is even my roommate, and we go to dinner together whenever we can. Walking by the pond, mostly to see the deer that are all around campus, is now therapeutic for me and going to the Family Dollar brings me so much joy.

Also, there’s so many places that are within walking distance. My friend and I even found a little antique store and so many boutiques that we spent a whole day looking at when both of us realized that we needed to get out of our dorm. Those happy moments make me believe that I am truly at the right place.

Mostly, it was a pretty amazing first semester for me, and I learned a lot of important stuff like, don’t schedule two lectures right after one another because you will not want to do anything after it and labs that go until 9:00 at night are the worst. I’m very glad that I get to have this opportunity though because I know that some people don’t. So, I’m going to continue trying my best, even though some days it feels like just going to class will make me lose my mind.

Riley Jensen is a Freshman majoring in Forensic Chemistry at Ohio University. She loves the academics and is so excited to finally be doing some amazing STEM classes. She is an avid YA reader and has been writing for TLT for almost 10 years now.

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.)

Tabletop Game Review: Tacocat Spelled Backwards is Tacocat

Whether you have board games that you circulate or have them in your teen area for teens to sit down and play, I’m here to share real tween and teen thoughts on board games that we play and share here. There are so many ways you can use table top games in your library. Today we’re talking on TacoCat Spelled Backwards. It’s by the makers of Throw Throw Burrito, which we previously reviewed here.

For the purpose of this review, I’m going to refer to this game as TacoCat, which is a palindrome. A palindrome spelled backwards is still the same word and it informs the structure of this game. Who wins each hand determines which direction the tacocat piece moves. The board is like a giant palindrome and the goal is to get the tacocat into your winning space.

The first thing you need to know about this game is that it is only a 2 player game. But it’s quick, so you could definitly use it with multiple players if you rotate new contestants in.

When you open TacoCat, it looks like this:

The box is the board. It’s kind of a board game/card game combo. You start in the middle of the board and you play each hand. The winner of the hand moves the tacocat piece towards their end. If it’s a tie you move the tacocat piece in the direction of the arrow. Your goal is to get the tacocat down into your winning zone.

The number on the space indicates how many cards will be in the hand. You will deal the cards and you start each round with a duel. You want to try and win the round so that you can set the tone for the next challenge. The highest card wins initial rounds, think War. The winner of the initial duel will then lay down a card and try and force their opponent to sacrifice their lowest cards.

Your ultimate goal is to try and hold on to the lowest card possible because the lowest card wins the final round. So there is strategy at play here.

So you do the first hand as a duel. Say Player 1(P1) lays down a 12 and Player 2 (P2) lays down a 2. P1 has won this duel and gets to lay down first the next round.

In the next rounds, you want to lay down your highest cards and try and force the other player to sacrifice their lowest card. If P1 lays down an 11 and P2 can’t beat that 11, then they have to sacrifice their lowest card. You are trying to maintain control of the game and get the other player to sacrifice all of their lowest cards.

In the last card, both players lay down and the lowest card wins. Up until this moment, the highest card wins. But at the end, the lowest card wins. You want to hold onto your lowest cards as much as possible.

If both players lay down, say a 6, then it’s a tie and you follow the direction of the arrow on the board. There are little tiles to place on each space as you play it. The game lasts anywhere from 4 to 8 hands.

This game is quick, easy and FUN! I highly recommend it. At regular price the game costs about $15.00. If you can, buy multiple copies of the game and host a bracket tournament. I think the quick play of it really makes it a great addition to libraries.