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Book Review: Tonight We Rule the World by Zack Smedley

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.

Page Street. Oct. 2021. 352p. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781645673323.

Gr 9 Up–A sexual assault, the secrets surrounding it, and the resulting trauma reshape everything high school senior Owen understands to be true. Switching between earlier diaries and the current time line, Owen, who is on the autism spectrum, details his relationship with his girlfriend, do-gooder perfectionist Lily. Neither Lily nor their friends blink when Owen comes out as bisexual, but the night he reveals this information on social media he is sexually assaulted while on a class trip. He tries to keep the report of his rape and the ensuing investigation secret from Lily, as things between them are already strained and stressful. Though Owen knows who raped him, he refuses to tell the school, his parents, or the authorities. He grapples with what happened to him while trying to figure out if he can do the relationship reset that Lily desperately wants. Owen works through the hurdles that trauma brings, eventually confronting his abuser and revealing their identity to his parents. The intricate layers, stunning revelations, and powerful emotions in this story will captivate readers as well as help them overlook some of the flaws—mainly uneven writing. The structure of the novel, partially told through diary entries, successfully adds suspense and shows how difficult it can be to move forward and just exist in the aftermath of a horrific incident.

VERDICT A painful and important look at toxic relationships, rape, power, and control from a vantage point not often seen in YA.

From the Funnies to the Munchies: An Origin Story, a guest post by David Fremont

Creating the Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher graphic novel series for kids has truly been a dream come true for me. Now that three books are complete—Catch the Munchies! Tater Invaders! and the just released Reptoids from Space!—I’ve been able to experience a lot of wonderful things with them. I’ve had the opportunity to read excerpts of my books to classrooms of students, presented my books at library author visits, been able to teach children how to draw the Munchies and received kind messages from parents who have told me my books have inspired their children to read more. I recently sat down and re-read through Book 3: Reptoids from Space! The first panel in the story features a chaotic scene with Shady Plains (Carlton Crumple’s hometown) kids having outdoor, summertime fun. It got me thinking back to my own childhood and some of the things that inspired me to make this graphic novel series for children.  

When I was a kid, I loved reading comic books and comic strips. Some of my favorite comic books were Sad Sack, Archie, Donald Duck, Popeye, Batman, and the comics in Mad Magazine My favorite comic strips included Peanuts, Figments, Wizard of Id, Tumbleweeds and Nancy.  My comics-reading obsession led me into wanting to create my own comic strip. The hardest part about that for me was coming up with a funny gag each time. My brain doesn’t really work like that. I love comedy, but I’ve never really liked having jokes told to me so much. I tend to space out in the middle of the joke and rarely do I understand the punchline. So, the thought of telling a joke each day until forever was not for me. My dad would give me and my older brother Mark white pads and ballpoint pens from his Carpet Cleaning office to draw on. Mark would create these funny ongoing comics with titles like Bouncing Boy Barney and Phantom of the Titanic that inspired me to make my own ballpoint pen stories.

From Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 3: Reptoids from Space
by David Fremont

A few years later, when I was around 11 years old, my cool, older cousin Steve showed us a comic he was working on called The Great White Shark.  It was very much a Jaws rip-off, but I didn’t care. The drawings were so good and, besides, I was a huge fan of the movie. This was the 70s, so any film with a creature on the loose, a natural disaster imperiling humans or a sci-fi theme was for me. So, I obsessively started creating comics inspired by movies I had seen. I did my own Jaws rip-off called Namu the Killer Eel. Soon after that I created a comic about people trapped in a burning ski gondola called, appropriately, Gondola. It was pretty much Towering Inferno in powder pants. My friends and I saw a weird sci-fi movie called The Lost Continent about a cruise ship that drifts into another dimension full of man-eating seaweed. That film inspired me to create a comic called Red Water about a raft full of people who encounter sea monsters— in another dimension, of course! I became completely obsessed with creating comics based on films I had seen: Fangs (House of Dark Shadows) Sky Vaders (Star Wars) Rex the Robot (Westworld) King Kong (King Kong). Yeah, I loved that last one so much I decided to just draw an outright reboot of the film! 

When I got into high school my older sister’s boyfriend gave me a copy of a sci-fi graphic novel called The Incal Light by Moebius. The fantastical space realms and unique characters within the book inspired me to try and create my own original sci-fi story. I came up with something called Philo Fixer: Weasel from Mars about a cocky, clueless weasel detective solving crimes in outer space. I really fell into the world I was creating, it’s all I thought about. All of those “movie comics” I had previously created really helped me map out the story in a sequential format. 

From Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 3: Reptoids from Space
by David Fremont

I went on a backpacking trip with my brother and some friends but foolishly left my drawing pad behind. Being out in nature away from all my high school worries really got my imagination flowing. Ideas for my Weasel from Mars comic came flooding in, but I had nothing to sketch or write with! So, I started stacking all my ideas for the story in my head and created a sort of visual filing system. I was worried I would forget all my great ideas and concepts. I had an idea that Philo had an inch tall reptilian side kick, so I imagined a picture of a tiny lizard, and so forth. When I returned home, I opened the drawer to my visual filing cabinet and began furiously sketching out everything that was in there.  I somehow managed to remember all the ideas for Philo Fixer: Weasel from Mars.

This experience solidified my love for telling longer comic stories, and I really enjoyed having this imaginary, ongoing adventure that I could jump into whenever I wanted. My mom signed me up for a comics class at the local community center with this laid back, longhaired teacher-dude named Mike. It was basically this great space for us kids to create our own comics.  At the end of the course Mike xeroxed and stapled all our comics into one big book that we all got to take home. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I got my comics class anthology—my first foray into (almost) publishing! 

I later learned, in my early twenties, that creating comics was a very difficult way to earn a living.  After relocating to San Francisco, I created an ongoing comic story for Last Gasp and a strip for Mondo 2000, but my bread and butter came from editorial illustration and working at Colossal Pictures painting animation cels. That job eventually led to creating the Zoog characters for Disney Channel and Germtown, one of the first interactive projects for Cartoon Network. When the internet came along, I was given the opportunity to create my own internet show based on one of my comics called Glue.  A few years later DreamWorks TV greenlit a web show I pitched based on a comic from my sketchbook called Public Pool With these animated shows I was able to bring my comics to life and they were some of the best jobs I’ve ever had. I found that I’m happiest when I’m creating imaginary worlds with a continuing storyline. I’m not only able to shut off the noise inside and outside of my head when I’m drawing and creating worlds, but it also gives me inner peace, purpose, and focus. 

From Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 3: Reptoids from Space
by David Fremont

The animation and freelance work eventually dried up in SF, so we relocated to LA. After developing a pilot at Nickelodeon that didn’t get a series greenlight, I was left burned out and with no work. So, my wife and I decided that me being a stay-at-home dad for my two young two kids was the best option at this time. Every time I took my son and daughter to the library or bookstore kid’s section, I’d see all these graphic novels for kids. My children loved Captain Underpants, Pokémon, and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  It was inspiring to see all these comic book style books gaining popularity. I had a lot of animation ideas in my sketchbook and thought they would make fun books. Also, my author/illustrator friend James Proimos (Waddle! Waddle!) kept telling me “You should do books!”  

One day I was at Leo Carrillo beach with my family. I saw a kid on a towel eating french fries from a McDonald’s Happy Meal bag. I imagined the kid throwing a French fry into the ocean and sea monsters gobbling it up and swimming to the surface for more delicious fast food. The entire story rolled out into my sketchbook and within about two weeks I had the whole thing sketched out.   

I scanned it into the computer and put together a PDF dummy of the book. I suddenly got very busy with my DreamWorks TV Public Pool animated project and teaching cartooning classes, so the book sat inside my computer. A few years later, my Nickelodeon producer friend Mary Harrington (Invader Zim, Rugrats) called me and asked if I had any ideas for books. A former colleague of hers, Kyra Reppen, was looking for titles for a new publishing company called Pixel and Ink. I sent them Catch the Munchies. A few weeks later Editor-in-Chief Bethany Buck not only greenlit the book but offered me a three-book deal.  I got more excited than a Munchie with a stack of cheeseburgers!     

I haven’t stopped being excited and grateful to be able to share Carlton Crumple’s comedy adventures with the young readers of the world. As I said earlier, it’s truly been a dream come true. My biggest hope now is that my Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher books inspire children to read more books and create their own comics. And to all the creators of comics and kids’ books that inspired me so much over the years… “High fries!!!”

Meet the author

The youngest of five children, David Fremont grew up in Fremont, CA (true story), where he loved drawing while watching cartoons. He is now an animated content creator who most recently created web series for DreamWorks TV. When not pitching pilots, David teaches cartoon classes to kids. Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher is his first series with Pixel+Ink.

About Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher 3: Reptoids from Space

An out-of-this-world new adventure in a very funny graphic novel series that combines fast food, monsters, and battle! Fans of Lunch Lady and Dog Man will gobble this down.

When Carlton catches a UFO on camera, he kicks into full-on Creature Catcher mode. Sick of hearing about Carlton’s heroics, his brother Milt stages an alien invasion using a remote-controlled drone disguised as a spaceship. And Carlton falls for it. 

Iggy and Poof Poof think the ship’s cool, so they borrow it to stage a fake alien battle. But a real UFO full of Reptoids spots the showdown and, seeing it as a threat, swoops in and abducts Iggy and Poof Poof!

Panicked, Lulu calls the Creature Catcher emergency line. Her creatures have been captured! Now it’s up to Carlton to stage a rescue, and save the day!

Bold artwork and otherworldly antics combine in the third installment in the Carlton Crumple Creatuture Catcher series. Middle grade graphic novel readers, including fans of series like Lunch Lady and Dog Man, will eat this up.

ISBN-13: 9781645950080
Publisher: Holiday House
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Series: Carlton Crumple Creature Catcher #3
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: Why We Fly by Kimberly Jones and Gilly Segal

Publisher’s description

From the New York Times bestselling authors of I’m Not Dying with You Tonight comes a story about friendship, privilege, sports, and protest.

With a rocky start to senior year, cheerleaders and lifelong best friends Eleanor and Chanel have a lot on their minds. Eleanor is still in physical therapy months after a serious concussion from a failed cheer stunt. Chanel starts making questionable decisions to deal with the mounting pressure of college applications. But they have each other’s backs—just as always, until Eleanor’s new relationship with star quarterback Three starts a rift between them.

Then, the cheer squad decides to take a knee at the season’s first football game, and what seemed like a positive show of solidarity suddenly shines a national spotlight on the team—and becomes the reason for a larger fallout between the girls. As Eleanor and Chanel grapple with the weight of the consequences as well as their own problems, can the girls rely on the friendship they’ve always shared?

Amanda’s thoughts

Oooh, is there a LOT to talk about with this book! I’d love to see it used in a literature circle in a high school class and eavesdrop on every single thought!

Eleanor, or Leni, who is white and Jewish, is recovering from multiple falls and concussions from cheering on the competitive squad. She’s excited to get her medical clearance so she can cheer her senior year. Chanel, or Nelly, who is Black, has spent the summer at a prestigious cheer camp. She’s driven, organized, super competitive, and determined to attend a top business school. And then there’s Three, star football player, also Black, Leni’s new love interest, and a kid with an outrageous amount of pressure on him. His hardcore dad is determined for Three to make it in the bigtime.

Senior year in Atlanta, Georgia takes on a million twists and turns starting with Leni being chosen as cheer captain over Nelly. This strains their friendship, as does Leni’s attention to Three. When the cheer team decides to kneel during the national anthem in solidarity with an alum making waves in the news, things really pop off. The football coach says the sidelines is not the place for this kind of act, the students become heroes to some and villains to others, and the squad’s act spreads to other student groups, drawing more attention to their school and to those who started this movement. The choices these students make affect them all differently and garner different reactions. Leni’s parents are proud of her and her rabbi reminds her of the obligation to bear witness to injustice. Nelly’s parents are not happy with her choice and she’s the one who ends up taking the heat from the school. And Three? He thinks the decision to kneel is admirable and brave, but isn’t sure he can make that move because it might risk his entire future.

The authors force their characters to grapple with big questions. They examine the controversy and power of social action. They make their characters (and, by extension, their readers) think about who gets to make these decisions, what consequences may look like, and what it all means. Leni has to think about what it means to be an ally versus what it means to be an accomplice. She has to think about what centering herself does and if she’s been listening to and understanding the very people she’s trying to support. Good intentions are not enough, and both Leni and Nelly think about what social justice work they may want to do as they move forward and in what way.

I loved the entire kneeling/social justice movement storyline as much as I loved seeing competitive cheerleaders hard at work and the outrageous pressure on some student athletes. We see friendships and romantic relationships strained because of all these plot elements. I really liked the other book these authors did together, I’m Not Dying With You Tonight, and hope to see more from them, both together and individually. A thought-provoking read full of social commentary.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781492678922
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Cindy Crushes Programming: DIY Evee Evolution Pins, by Teen Librarian Cindy Shutts

We are joined again by my fabolous Coworker Faith Healy who is here to talk about her super cute craft Eevee Evolution Pins! So if your teens love Pokemon give this a try. 

So I am particularly proud of this craft as I created the template from scratch and it came out so cute. This is not the first time I made a template from scratch, but sometimes you get an idea in your head and it does not work out the way you want. This one worked out great!

Designing the Template

So I was looking for program ideas on my go to site Pinterest when I came across a cute template for sewing Eevee evolution plush heads here is the link for anyone interested: https://cholyknight.com/2018/01/12/eeveelution-blob-plush/ . For My teens,  the amount of sewing it called for might be a little tough, but I hoped I could do something with the template. Unfortunately the template was very complicated, but it did have a reference photo. I looked at the photo and knew I could make a template that was simple just using the photo. It was harder than anticipated, but I did it. I used the Silhouette studio to trace the image to create an outline. It did not work great on all the images. Some I had to trace myself, but all that matters is that I created a usable design that I am happy to share!

Deciding the Materials

I went with foam, but you can use any material with this template. I just happened to have foam around to make some samples when testing my DIY template. I chose to do pins since I did have a bunch available from a past craft and I have done Pokemon badges before in foam and my teens loved them. You could do this using foam, felt, paper even. You could make them pins, pendants, earrings. I would just test out materials before making any decisions.

Making the Craft Kits

So I made the terrible decision to put all nine templates in one kit. I was just unsure which Eevee evolutions would be more popular with teens so I decided to all nine. I do not recommend this. It was a lot of work. I did make 36 kits, 12 for each of my library’s three branches. The cost was around $50 for the foam, pins, and bags.  If attempting this craft kit, I would break it down by Eevee Evolutions, just make sure to include Eevee in all the kits. If you are unaware, Jolteon, Flareon, and Vaporean are the og Eevee Evolutions. Umbreon and Espeon were the next generation. Then Leafon, Glaceon, and Slyveon came out, though Slyveon I believe came out a generation after Leafon and Glaceon.  Enough of pokemon lore, that would be how I would break it down in the future and what I would recommend to anyone attempting this craft kit. It is possible to do all nine, but be prepared for a lot of work.

One thing I had to do when making the kit is figuring out how much of each color I needed in each kit.  So I made the following charts below. I figured out the color breakdown of each eevee evolution, than I broke it down by color. The colors that are used more, I made sure to buy more of them in foam.  This method might not work for everybody, I am just more of a visual person.

Once I figured out what I needed I bought the foam. I cut up the foam so I would have 36 of each color that are big enough for what is required to be cut. From there I did the lengthy process of stuffing them with each color, 9 pins, 9 templates, and instructions.

Making the Instructions

I feel like it is pretty clear on how to construct, but I know instructions are always helpful. I made sure to include a color guide on the instructions so they know what colors to use with what piece. The instructions are not as pretty as I like, but I got sick with bronchitis and had to take a week off work and the release date was looming near, so I might have done them in a rush.

This is a simple and fun craft. It works great as a Take and Make. We literally have people come in to just pick up this craft kit.

I will also say this craft could be a fun program where you watch Pokemon and make your favorite eevee evolution pin.

Please feel free to share and use any of the documents I have provided.

Cindy Shutts, MLIS

Cindy is passionate about teen services. She loves dogs, pro-wrestling, Fairy tales, mythology, and of course reading. Her favorite books are The Hate U Give, Catching FIre, The Royals, and everything by Cindy Pon. She loves spending times with her dog Harry Winston and her niece and nephew. Cindy Shutts is the Teen Services Librarian at the White Oak Library District in IL and she’ll be joining us to talk about teen programming. You can follow her on Twitter at @cindysku.

In the Shadow of Mammothgate: Writing Historical Fiction Without Whitewashing History, a guest post by Betsy Bird

Say, do any of you happen to remember the Mammothgate controversy of 2009? I’ve been a children’s librarian for a number of years, but I remember it like it was yesterday. You see, that was the year that author Patricia Wrede published her middle grade novel The Thirteenth Child. In that story, Wrede created an alternate America. An American where the land bridge never existed. You understand the implications, of course. By removing this element, Wrede purposefully didn’t have any Native Americans to put into her text. She had, in short, effectively removed an element of her story that she didn’t want to deal with. The resulting furor was, to put it mildly, intense. Its name, “Mammothgate”, was based on the premise that without humans in the Americas, some species (like woolly mammoths) would have continued to roam the plains.

Wrede, for the most part, stayed silent on the outcry that followed. And it was Debbie Reese on her American Indians in Children’s Literature blog who discussed the potential good the author could do, were she to discuss her choices. As she wrote on June 19, 2009:

“Given her influence and standing, I wonder how much impact she’d have on the field if she reflected, publicly, on the controversy over her novel? I think there’s a lot to learn from it. Learning that could shift the field forward in the United States and elsewhere, too. ”

Wrede’s book was not an outlier, however. Though it was a rather extreme case, authors of historical works of fiction for kids have pretty much been performing their own mini  Mammothgates for years. I should know. I almost did it myself.

In writing my first middle grade novel LONG ROAD TO THE CIRCUS, I based the bulk of the book on my own family’s history. I’m white. My family’s white. And most of the characters in my book, based on real people, were also white. The story itself is simple. You see, my family always told the tale of how my grandma’s no good uncle would regularly skip out on his farm chores to walk several miles to an elderly ex-circus performer’s house. He wanted to learn how to train farm horses to do circus tricks, apparently. And when I learned that the circus performer, one Madame Marantette, was a real historical figure, I realized I had the makings of a book on my hands.

Copious research into the life of Madame Marantette revealed many fascinating details. She retains the high jump record on a horse while riding sidesaddle to this day. She is the only person ever to figure out how to train a horse and an ostrich to pull a surrey together. And in her time she was world famous. Revered even! She met the king of England and everything.

That’s the big stuff. The littler stuff was where things got interesting for me as a writer. As I mentioned, my family is white and the Madame was white. But Bud Thurskow, a man who worked for the Madame for many years, was Black. And here we have the potential for a Mammothgate. You see, for all that my family lived in Burr Oak, and for all that the historical society in the Three Rivers Area pretty much only contains information on white families, there has always been the presence of Native and Black populations in the area of Southwest Michigan. One photo of the Madame in her surrey, which I took care to include in the book, shows a racially diverse crowd looking on.

The fate of Bud in my book? It would have been so easy to just not include him. To silently erase his presence from the Madame’s life and from my own story. Surely that’s what a lot of white writers of historical fiction for children have done in the past. When history gets “complicated” they simplify it by focusing only on the white characters. But not only did this seem to be a great disservice to the memory of Bud, it also would have made my book less interesting.

Bud was staying. That led to an issue though. In what way was he staying? Because now we had to face a whole host of offensive tropes. Right off the bat I didn’t want him to be the Magical Black Friend that helps the heroine and offers folksy advice at just the right times. I didn’t want Bud to serve as some kind of foil for my heroine. I wanted him to have a life outside of this story. A history. I wanted him to exist in his own narrative. That’s how I was able to merge his story with that of Jimmy Winkfield. I’d had the pleasure of hearing an episode of Stuff You Missed in History Class (one of my favorite podcasts) called “Jimmy Winkfield: Derby Pioneer”. I learned about the history of Black jockeys, how they’d broken barriers, and made more money than a lot of their white peers. That is, until white people got mad and took the jockey jobs away from them. Jimmy Winkfield went overseas and had a variety of adventures over there, and it was through his story that I realized I could give Bud a complicated past. I could give him an entire history that mirrored the life of the Madame, but went in a different direction.

I made my choice, but it’s funny how sometimes these choices go unnoticed. The Publishers Weekly review of LONG ROAD TO THE CIRCUS is very complimentary. It says nice things like how the book is a “spirited historical adventure” and that David Small’s “expressive, humorous b&w illustrations infuse the narrative with further personality.” Excellent things to hear if you’re a first time middle grade author. Unfortunately, the review ends by saying that, “All characters cue as white.” When I read that, my heart just dropped. I didn’t erase Bud, but somehow reviewers are so primed to assume that a work of historical fiction set in a small town will contain all white characters that they’ll fail to notice when a book goes in a different direction.

Here then is a hope that in the future we’ll have a different set of expectations. Our children’s books have historically whitewashed the past. Let’s hope that going forward they have the wherewithal to open the eyes of their child readers to what it was really like in the past. That America was a hugely diverse country, and that fact should permeate our books.

In other words, let’s put those mammoths back in the ground where they belong.

Meet the author

Betsy Bird is the Collection Development Manager of Evanston Public Library and the former Youth Materials Specialist of New York Public Library. She writes for the School Library Journal blog A Fuse #8 Production and reviews for Kirkus. She is the host of the Story Seeds podcast as well as the co-host of the podcast Fuse 8 n’ Kate. Betsy is the author of nonfiction, picture books, anthologies, and the new historical middle grade novel LONG ROAD TO THE CIRCUS, illustrated by David Small and out this October. You can follow Betsy at @FuseEight on Twitter or at betsybirdbooks.com.

About Long Road to the Circus

The story of a girl who rides an ostrich straight to her dreams from theaward-winning writer and librarian Betsy Bird, illustrated by Caldecott Medalist David Small.

Twelve-year-old Suzy Bowles is tired of summers filled with chores on her family farm in Burr Oak, Michigan, and desperate to see the world. When her wayward uncle moves back home to the farm, only to skip his chores every morning for mysterious reasons, Suzy decides to find out what he’s up to once and for all. And that’s when she meets legendary former circus queen Madame Marantette and her ostriches. Before long, Suzy finds herself caught-up in the fast-paced, hilarious world of ostrich riding, a rollicking adventure that just might be her ticket out of Burr Oak.

ISBN-13: 9780593303931
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Age Range: 10 – 12 Years

What Is YA?, a guest post by Hayley Krischer

In the beginning of September, New Yorker writer Helen Rosner added to the already agonizing conversation “What makes YA, YA?” when she posted this on Twitter: “If the protagonist is a girl between the ages of 17-25 the only difference between YA and adult fiction is marketing. I will die on this hill.”

The conversation started another intense discussion on Twitter about a topic that has been covered for at least a decade. Authors and librarians have weighed in heavily on this: YA books make the world less scary and bewildering; YA makes us safe to be who we are and YA should only be written for teens, and teens alone.

Despite what some might believe, YA is not just a marketing tool. Just because a book is about teenagers, it doesn’t mean that it is meant for teenagers. Or that it will have the teenage perspective needed to attract teenagers.

As a first time YA writer, I found myself in this situation when I was writing my second book The Falling Girls. My story had been partially based on the Skylar Neese murder. Skylar Neese was a 16-year-old from West Virginia who was killed by her two best friends; when one of the girls was asked why they did it, she responded: “We just didn’t like her.”

I was fascinated by the concept of turning on your best friend in such a horrific way. I wanted to understand these girls and their relationships before the murder took place. Who were they when they were together? What did they mean to each other?

From that place, I created Shade, my main character, who becomes completely intoxicated by Chloe Orbach, the dazzling head of the cheerleading team who has a dark side. Shade’s best friend Jadis isn’t happy about this new friendship. Neither is Chloe’s best friend. One of the girls is killed at the homecoming dance, and Shade needs to find out what happened.

Shade does a lot of self-searching—she has to not only take a lens to herself and her desires, but she has to understand how her relationship with Chloe impacted her intimate relationship with Jadis. By the end of the book (without giving away too much), Shade is able stand on her own two feet. She’s had a damaging experience, yes, but it also made her stronger. Shade found the path outside of that dark place.

And that’s the difference between YA and adult. An adult book does not need to see a path out of a dark place. An adult book doesn’t need a solution. It doesn’t need to make the main character stronger.

Look at The Girls by Emma Cline, a dark coming-of-age novel about 14-year-old Evie, who gets drawn into a cult based on the Manson family murders. Evie gets sucked into the destruction of the cult; she’s fascinated by the dank school bus, the dusty dirt road, the ragged children… but she is most captivated by Suzanne, one of the cult members. Evie never finds that stable footing—not as a teenager, or as an adult. Evie isn’t necessarily looking to grow. She’s following her instincts, she’s following Suzanne’s lead, which are all skewered and troubled.

And that’s the real difference when you’re writing for children. You must depict growth.

As Oblong Books manager Nicole Brinkley recently wrote in her newsletter, Misshelved: “YA books are supposed to offer a unique literary space where teens can engage with content created specifically for readers at their stage of neurological and psychological development, about characters who are their age, and that offer them the opportunity to read and escape and grow.”

Back to Cline for a moment because The Girls is a good example here. Cline isn’t interested in teaching her readers a lesson in growth. She depicts the story about a lost, vulnerable girl on the edge of something horrible, something she always lives with and never quite gets over.

YA encompasses so many stories about growth, but it also gives teenagers the ability to connect and understand themselves, especially the confusing sides of themselves in different ways. Which is why representation has become an enormous part of successful YA.

As Angie Thomas explained in an interview:  “I was not used to seeing books about people like me in circumstances like mine, specifically when it comes to young adult literature. As a teenager, I hated reading… but now I can look back and say it wasn’t that I hated reading, I hated the books that were being presented to me.”

And here is the crux of the YA experience. It should give young adult readers a new perspective that feels familiar to them, but also gives them a diagram about life. This doesn’t mean YA needs to shy away from difficult topics. There are a number of YA authors who write very grown up situations for their characters. There’s Tiffany D. Jackson who portrayed a 17-year-old groomed by a famous sexual predator in Grown. Or like Kathleen Glasgow who wrote about a girl who self-harms in Girl In Pieces.

The main characters in these books are harmed, they’re traumatized, but they come away with a lesson about life. We leave these books knowing that these characters will, at some point, be okay. Their souls have taken a beating, sure. But they’ve made it through.

That is the true hallmark of YA. That you can make it through tough times, because you have a whole big beautiful life ahead of you.

Meet the author

Hayley Krischer is a journalist and author of young adult fiction. Her debut novel, Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf, was on the shortlist in the New York Times, a Book Expo buzz book pick for 2020 and selected for the 2021 Rise: A Feminist Book Project List from the American Library Association. She is a regular contributor to the New York Times and has written for the New York Times Magazine, The Atlantic, Marie Claire, The Rumpus, Lenny Letter and many other outlets. Hayley Krischer lives in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, with her husband, two kids, one dog, and three cats.

Website: www.hayleykrischer.net
Instagram: @hayleykrischer
Twitter: @hayleykrischer

About The Falling Girls

Perfect for fans of Kathleen Glasgow and Nina LaCour comes another searing, affecting novel that follows one girl caught between two toxic worlds from the author of Something Happened to Ali Greenleaf.

A compelling, crushing, and spot-on story about toxicity, feminism and friendship” Kathleen Glasgow

Shade and Jadis are everything to each other. They share clothes, toothbrushes, and even matching stick-and-poke tattoos. So when Shade unexpectedly joins the cheerleading team, Jadis can hardly recognize who her best friend is becoming. 

Shade loves the idea of falling into a group of girls; she loves the discipline it takes to push her body to the limits alongside these athletes . Most of all, Shade finds herself drawn to The Three Chloes—the insufferable trio that rules the squad—including the enigmatic cheer captain whose dark side is as compelling as it is alarming. 

Jadis won’t give Shade up so easily, though, and the pull between her old best friend and her new teammates takes a toll on Shade as she tries to forge her own path. So when one of the cheerleaders dies under mysterious circumstances, Shade is determined to get to the bottom of her death. Because she knows Jadis—and if her friend is responsible, doesn’t that mean she is, too? 

In this compelling, nuanced exploration of the layered, intoxicating relationships between teen girls, and all the darkness and light that exists between them, novelist Hayley Krischer weaves a story of loss and betrayal, and the deep reverberations felt at a friendship’s breaking point. 

ISBN-13: 9780593114148
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Age Range: 14 – 17 Years

Dyslexia Awareness Month: Let’s Talk Fidgets, including DIY Fidget Toys, with the help of My Tween Scout

Check out the Dyslexia Dashboard for all of our Dyslexia posts

October is Dyslexia Awareness Month and Scout and I like to use this blog to raise awareness. Scout is an amazing 12 year old who has Dyslexia. And like a lot of kids who have Dyslexia, she also has ADHD. According to Everyday Health:

As many as one in four children with ADHD also have dyslexia, while between 15 and 40 percent of children with dyslexia have ADHD.


My amazing kid is one of the many, many kids out there who have both. Scout says ADHD is like this: I have trouble focusing and I like to move my body a lot. She can also become hyper-fixted on things, which I why when she learns how to make a new kind of fidget she doesn’t just make one, but she makes a basket full of them. In fact, just as much as Scout will do 1,000 cartwheels while trying to watch a movie, she can also spend hours alone in her room making a ton of fidgets or playing with Legos. Like Dyslexia, it isn’t just one thing and it can affect people different; it can even affect them differently at different times.

And as a kid with ADHD, she is a big fan of fidget toys. Like all things ADHD and Dyslexia related, it took me a while to realize the how and why of all of this. But basically, having something to do in her hand can help her focus and be better at managing tasks like reading and doing homework. Having her attention divided in this way can help her to hone in her focus, keep her body more still, and just pay better attention to the details. So where she has a tendency to want to get up and move her muscles every few minutes, having a fidget in one hand can help make the moments in between that need to move last longer so she has longer periods of focus.

How Fidgets Can Help Kids with ADHD


Scout is a huge lover of fidgets. She will bring out her basket of fidgets and tell me what they all are called and show me how to use them. I’ve heard her talk about them a lot and today she has chosen to talk to you about the various kinds of fidgets out there and share with you how she has even made her own, which would be a great program idea. All of the fidgets you see here are hers, including the homemade ones. I am transcribing for her.

Scout and her basket of fidgets

Fidgets 101

There are a wide variety of fidget toys out there. It’s unfortunate that they are called fidget toys, because they are actually quite helpful accessibility devices. As I mentioned, doing something in her hand can help her focus and concentrate. The fact that they are called toys and sold in the toy sections of stores can negate that they are actually a meaningful accessibility tool. So if you are someone who has bias against or doesn’t understand fidgets, please know that they are quite helpful to a lot of kids out there. You should also know that they are also new; it turns out that pretty much all of us have owned a fidget at one time or another, but older people like us grown ups didn’t always call them that. Just as long as there have been human roaming the Earth, there have been self soothing devices and kids/adults have found a way to self-manage their ADHD before we even knew to call it ADHD.

The Fidget Spinner

The idea of fidgets really broke out on the scene a few years back with the popularity of the fidget spinner. For a while, they were everywhere. You hold them in one hand and let them spin and it’s a fun distraction. As a parent, I like the fidget spinner because it is quieter. Not all fidgets are quiet. Interestingly, sometimes, the noise is part of the appeal.

Scout’s love of fidgets began with fidget spinners, but these are her least favorite at this point in part because they actually require the least amount of action. Once you get them spinning, there isn’t a lot for you to do.

We have written about DIY fidget spinners before and all the spinners you see in the picture above were made by teens. Scout has made some out of 3D pens, paper, and more. You need to purchase bearings for the center, but what you do with that center is open to a wide. The bearings can be purchased in bulk at a variety of online retailers.

Fidget Cubes

Fidget Cubes are cubes with a variety of activities on each side. The appeal here is that you can move it around and do a variety of activities, so you aren’t stuck with any one thing in your hand. There is a lot of clicking, feelings, and movement involved.

You can make your own using cardboard and whatever is left over in your craft cabinet. Scout has made a couple using what we have laying around the house including hot glue, it turns out that dried hot glue is tactiley pleasing for many people. Googly eyes, clothes pins, pony beads and more work well for this activity. If you have some laying around and it can be hot glued to a surface, it will probably work.

The Popper or Poppit

One of the more popular fidgets today is the popper. They come in different shapes and sizes and they have these little silicone bubbles that you can pop. Yes, it’s very much like popping packaging bubbles except for better for the environment. And yes, it’s very noisy like popping packaging bubbles. She is 100% not allowed to take these ones to school because I respect her teachers. In addition to the tactile pleasure here, she likes the rhythm of it. She’s also a big fan of the collectibility of it; who doesn’t like to have a variety of fun shapes and sizes?

Here’s a fun hack for you, you can buy silicone candy molds for a lot less money at your local discount grocery store and they are a very good substitute.

You can also make a Lego type Popper, which Thing 2 has done and really liked. This is a great activity if you have a Lego Club.

The Dimpl and the Simple Dimpl

The Dimpl and the Simple Dimpl come in very fun shapes and have a few larger popping circles. Like the poppers, they are fun to collect because of all the shapes and sizes that they come in. They also usually have carabiners on them so they can clip onto a lanyard or backpack. These are less noisy than the poppers, but not totally silent. But a lot of ADHD kids have issues with misplacing things, so being able to hook them onto a backpack or lanyard is really nice.

We made a version of a Simple Dimple using Lego:

There is also a variety of tutorials out there about how to DIY your own using other materials.

Squishies and Stressballs

Have you ever been given a stress ball at a trade show? You had a form of fidget, they just called it something else. Now they make them in all kinds of shapes and sizes and they are cute and collectible. They are also quiet!

You can make your own by filling a balloon with playdough, kinetic sand (and there are online recipes to make your own), or Orbeez. You can also make your own by making a duct tape pouch and filling it with plastic grocery bags as you see above. There are a lot of tutorials online and we’ve tried several. The kinetic sand in a balloon and the plastic bags in duct tape are quick, easy and not that expensive.

Tangles, Infinity Cubes and Wacky Tracks

There are several fidget toys that involve infinity like tangles that you manipulate. When I was a kid, we called these the Snake and didn’t know they were fidget toys. You can make your own very easily by making paper chains and gluing the ends together. In fact, there are a lot of fidget related things you can do with origami.

So there you have it, 6 fun ways that you can DIY your own fidget toys. Having a program where tweens and teens were invited to come in and make their own fidgets is not only fun – it promotes accessibility!! In my house, we definitely have some rules about what fidget tools can be used where (noisy fidgets don’t go to school), but I also have evolved to understand that they are helpful for a large number of kids. I hope that if you don’t understand the appeal of fidgets, that you will spend some time researching and talking to your kids about them. And if you find that your kids like them, I highly recommend DIY programs – They are a lot of fun!

Bringing The City Beautiful to Life, a guest post by Aden Polydoros

When I set out writing The City Beautiful, one of the basic and most important foundations of the story was nailing down the timelines and locations. For plot-related reasons, this story is very much set in the year of 1893, and both the mystery and Alter’s own past are heavily rooted in events that occurred years prior. Probably the most intensive part of my initial drafting process was figuring out how to build a vivid world and bring 1893 Chicago to life on the page, which involved deep research into what Chicago was like during that time—where in the city certain landmarks were located, how far it was from place to place, and the kind of technology and atmosphere one would expect to find there. In this guest post, I want to talk a little about some of the locations that appear or are mentioned in The City Beautiful.

Apancu, Wikipedia.org, 2006

Piatra Neamț, Romania

Magic flowed through the winding streets of Piatra Neamț, if one were to believe the legends. I grew up on stories of holy men parting the river Bistrița, golems shaped from clay, and, of course, those possessive spirits called dybbukim. – Page 175

During my drafting process, it was important for me to not just flesh out the present-day locations, but also determine how Alter’s own upbringing in Romania would influence who he is as a person. This involved extensive research into Romanian Jewish history, and the discrimination Romania’s Jewish communities faced in the mid-to-late 1800s. The town Alter comes from, Piatra Neamț, is now a city, with a current population of about 105,000. In Alter’s time, the population numbered far less (17,384 in 1899), and had a significant Jewish population of about 20%. As of 2003, only 153 Jews remain in Piatra Neamț.

Having Alter come from Romania made sense for the time period, since most Jews who immigrated to the United States during the 1880s-1890s fled persecution and violence in Eastern European countries. During my drafting process, I realized that his country of origin would affect everything from his religious observance, to the Yiddish dialect he speaks, to the way he is treated by the long-established German-Jewish community in Chicago. This realization helped me flesh out his character and bring him to life on the page.

Colorized photo of a c1900s postcard of the Maxwell Street Market, original source unknown

Maxwell Street

Despite its dilapidation and squalor, Maxwell Street had always felt secure and familiar to me. I could read the signs on the walls and speak to everyone I passed. But everything had changed now. I didn’t think I would ever feel safe here again. – Page 125

Like most recent Jewish immigrants in Chicago at that time, Alter lives in a tenement on Maxwell Street. As one of the most densely populated neighborhoods in Chicago at the time, Maxwell street was a self-contained community, with its own mix of charity organizations, synagogues, and businesses. There was even a Sunday market and Yiddish theater. It was also a place of significant poverty and hardship, further worsened by insufficient Victorian-era sanitation and unstable, poorly built tenements. However, it was also one of the few places in Chicago where recent Jewish immigrants like Alter could feel at home, surrounded by people who spoke the same language and practiced the same faith.

“Chicago’s Levee District at Night”, Harper’s Weekly, February 1898. Chicago History Museum.

The Levee

There was only one place Frankie would be on a night like this, and that was the Levee District cradling the city’s southern edge, a labyrinth of saloons, dance halls, and brothels. It was where it had all started for me, and where I had ended things. – Page 96

Chicago’s vice and red-light district, the Levee, plays an important role in the story. It is where Alter first found himself upon his arrival in the city, and later where he reacquaints with charming but morally dubious Frankie Portnoy. Although the picture above paints a charming picture, in reality it was a considerably dangerous place, where muggings were not uncommon and violence and corruption reigned. In other words, the perfect place for someone like Frankie to make a living.

The Stockyards

Past the gate, the Yards was a labyrinth of brick walls the color of spoiled meat, and smoke-guttering flues and rickety wooden ramps crammed within two square kilometers. Pens contained thousands of pigs and cattle, and as Raizel and I headed deeper into the complex, the air grew muggy with their earthy animal odors. – Page 233

Another significant location in the story is the Union Stockyards, the slaughterhouse district that formed the economy’s backbone at the time. By 1890, nine million animals each year met their deaths in the Stockyards’ slaughterhouses. The conditions in the slaughterhouses and processing factories were appalling, as was the treatment of the workers there. As for the meat they produced, because of the lack of regulations at the time, you’d be lucky if you found a single rat dropping in your sausage, and not the entire rat itself. In The City Beautiful, Alter’s search for justice leads him to suspect that more than just the blood of livestock was spilled in the Yards’ slaughterhouses.

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1945 Tribune article, found via https://www.chicagomag.com/city-life/may-2016/whitechapel-club/

The Whitechapel Club

As Mr. Whitby led us deeper into the room, he explained that the club was decorated with relics of slaughter. A knife used for murder. Nooses from the execution yard. The lamps were not porcelain or chalkware; they had been made from the skulls of the mad, acquired from Dunning Asylum. – Page 135

Active from 1889 to 1894, the Whitechapel Club began as a club for newsmen but was later gentrified by the rich and powerful. Source materials paint a garish picture of a club decorated with human remains and weapons—seemingly, the perfect haunting ground for a killer, or so Alter and his friends suspect. However, none of them are prepared for what waits for them there.

Meet the author

Aden Polydoros grew up in Illinois and Arizona, and has a bachelor’s degree in English from Northern Arizona University. When he isn’t writing, he enjoys going to antique fairs and flea markets. His YA gothic fantasy novel, THE CITY BEAUTIFUL, received starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, SLJ, and Bookpage, and is a BFYA2022 nominee. He can be found at adenpolydoros.com or on Twitter and Instagram at @AdenPolydoros. 

About The City Beautiful

Death lurks around every corner in this unforgettable Jewish historical fantasy about a city, a boy, and the shadows of the past that bind them both together. 

Chicago, 1893. For Alter Rosen, this is the land of opportunity, and he dreams of the day he’ll have enough money to bring his mother and sisters to America, freeing them from the oppression they face in his native Romania.

But when Alter’s best friend, Yakov, becomes the latest victim in a long line of murdered Jewish boys, his dream begins to slip away. While the rest of the city is busy celebrating the World’s Fair, Alter is now living a nightmare: possessed by Yakov’s dybbuk, he is plunged into a world of corruption and deceit, and thrown back into the arms of a dangerous boy from his past. A boy who means more to Alter than anyone knows.

Now, with only days to spare until the dybbuk takes over Alter’s body completely, the two boys must race to track down the killer—before the killer claims them next.

ISBN-13: 9781335402509
Publisher: Inkyard Press
Publication date: 10/05/2021
Age Range: 13 – 17 Years

Sunday Reflections: Once Again, I March

**Content Warning: Pregnancy Loss is Discussed**

Yesterday I marched. Again.

The girls and I at the Women’s March in 2017

I am a white Christian woman who has been married 26 years to my white Christian husband and I have had an abortion. I am only alive today because I had an abortion. My second child only exists in this world because I had an abortion.

When I was pregnant with Riley, I threw up a lot. More than I realized a person could. It was an unpleasant experience. What I didn’t know then is that it could be a deadly experience. Four years later, I would find that out.

I fought to live to see this kid grow up

When Riley was four, I became pregnant again. On purpose this time. Riley was a surprise, but a much loved one. I experienced everything I experienced in that first pregnancy but to much more of an extreme. Soon the vomiting came. And then the visits to the hospital.

But this time was different, and so very worse. I could keep nothing down. Nothing. Even with me taking the anti-nauseous medicine they gave to cancer patients receiving chemo, I could not stop vomiting. I threw up 24/7. My body started to break down in a process called metabolic acidosis. My resting heart rate was well over a 100 while my blood pressure was so low they marveled that I was even alive at one point. And I kept having to take costly trips to the ER where I was admitted, made stable, and then sent home with a set of instructions of what to look for and when to come back. And we all knew I was coming back.

At about 6 1/2 they did an ultrasound and the heartbeat was . . . slow and intermittent. The tech nervously turned off the sound and said it didn’t necessarily mean anything. But I think we all knew it meant everything. I was barely surviving this pregnancy, how could my baby?

One day Tim and I started discussing terminating the pregnancy to save my life. It came after another trip to the ER. It came after a night where I had to lock Riley and I up in my upstairs bedroom in case I died during the night because Tim worked nights and I was home alone with a 4 year old and I kept passing out. I tried teaching her how to dial 911 and took the locks off of my cell phone. I gathered together a bunch of 4 year old safe snacks, water, and locked us both up in my bedroom so she wouldn’t fall down the stairs or open the front door. I remember staring at her and wondering who she would become if she had to grow up without a mother. So Tim and I started the process of saving my life and we made an appointment for an abortion .

We met with our pastor. We went again to the ER. And this trip to the ER, they did an ultrasound. It’s surprising how often they don’t do one on a pregnant woman in the ER. And the ultrasound tech looked and looked and looked. She told me I measured around 6 weeks but there was no heartbeat yet. I told her that I had measured 6 1/2 weeks and had heard the heartbeat . . . a whole 3 weeks before this visit. She said she couldn’t tell me that my baby had died, but she could tell me that I only measured 6 weeks and that there was no heartbeat. She told me if I had measured 6 weeks 3 weeks ago and had heard a heartbeat that my the baby I was carrying had most likely died but she couldn’t tell me that because it was her first time seeing me

The next day, I went and saw a new ob/gyn, this one who performs abortions should I need to take that route. We once again had the same discussion about the measurements and the heartbeat. He told me that it was the law that I had to wait 24 hours to perform the abortion and that he hoped that I would survive the next day, waiting. He told me, once again, what to look for and when to go to the ER: if I got too dehydrated, heart symptoms to watch for, passing out, etc.

When the time came I was loaded up into the car and taken back to have the abortion. I drove down with a picture of the baby we were 99% dead in my hand. I didn’t feel guilt or shame about having the abortion, I felt relief in knowing that I was going to live and get to watch Riley grow up.

That night, I laid on my bedroom floor and cried. And I don’t know how to say this, but I had . . . a vision? I don’t know. But I saw myself lying on the bedroom floor just as I was, crying. And before me knelt Jesus with his hands cupped and he caught my tears before they hit the floor. And I felt that somehow, my God was telling me that he grieved for me and with me and he was comforting me. I don’t know exactly what happened or how to describe it, but that moment has stayed with me throughout the remainder of my days. It brings me peace. And in the moments when doubt about my faith creeps in, I recall this moment.

Thankful every day that this kid exists

A couple of years later I would get pregnant again. I was kept alive this time with at home IV therapy and a drug cocktail that didn’t make me throw up any less. I threw up so much and so fiercely that my placenta began to separate at around 20 weeks. I remember going to the ER and they told me that my baby wouldn’t make it through the weekend and to come back if I started hemorrhaging. A nurse came to my house every 3 days to change my IV location. Thankfully, my baby and I survived that pregnancy and regular readers know her as Thing 2.

The ABCs of HG: an unconventional picture book (Karen’s story)

The pregnancy disease that I have is called Hyperemesis Gravidarum. I have talked about it a lot here. And it’s genetic, which means as the mother of two daughters that either one or both of them could have it. The don’t get pregnant before you’re ready talk has an extra layer added when you realize that you may be genetically pre-disposed to a life threatening pregnancy condition.

So yesterday, Tim and I went to our local Women’s March for Reproductive Freedom because we love our children. We know that pregnancy can be complicated and even life threatening. And we want our daughters, these glorious children of ours that we love and adore, to be recognized as fully human and to have the right to make their own bodily and health care choices.

Abortion in healthcare. I am only alive today because I could choose to end a pregnancy that was literally killing me. My second child is only alive today because I could choose to end a pregnancy that was literally killing me. Pregnancy is messy and complicated and life threatening for many people. They deserve the right to make their own healthcare decisions. I want my daughters to have the right to make their own healthcare decisions, because I love them with every ounce of my being.

Knowing and Not Knowing, a guest post by Barbara Dee

Not long before I started writing Violets Are Blue, I was talking with my husband about his experience growing up with a family member struggling with addiction.

“Did you know?” I asked.

“I knew and I didn’t,” he told me.

That answer—I knew and I didn’t—has always stayed with me. Kids are perceptive and sensitive, especially when it comes to family. But that doesn’t mean they correctly process everything they’re seeing. And sometimes they simply don’t want to see, because the truth, especially about a parent, is too disturbing.

As I was writing Violets Are Blue, I kept coming back to this sentence—I knew but I didn’t—as a way both into the character of Wren, and also into the story I wanted to tell. When you get a sentence like this stuck in your head, it’s a kind of gift from the writing gods. Having the line “Maybe he just likes you” kept me focused on the story I wanted to tell for my MG #metoo book. The expression “halfway normal” kept me on track as I wrote about a kid returning to school after two years of cancer treatment.

For Violets Are Blue, my challenge was to write a main character who was extremely observant about special effects makeup, and extremely close to her mom– and at the same time not getting the fact that her mom was struggling with an addiction to opioids. How can a character be able to detect the very subtle difference between two similar shades of purple eye shadow, and yet not be able to understand that the lock on her mom’s bedroom door is a red flag? Or that her mom’s frequent illnesses are suspicious? Or what it means that her mom is hoarding unmarked bottles of pills, or that money is missing from the house?

I had to make it plausible that Wren could see so well, and so much, and still not get what was going on with the beloved parent right in front of her. This was a difficult balance—but the more I thought about it, the more I realized that it was no different from the balance you always have to strike when you’re writing MG fiction from the main character’s point of view.

Middle-school-age narrators need to be perceptive and sensitive, but they’re not omniscient.  They see a lot, but they don’t see all—and even when they do see, they don’t always understand.

In My Life in the Fish Tank, Zinny witnesses her brother’s alarming behavior, but she understands it only in retrospect. In Maybe He Just Likes You, Mila senses that the boys’ behavior is out of line, but until she finds out about the scorecard, she doesn’t get why she’s being targeted. In Everything I Know About You, Tally has a close-up view of Ava’s behavior (in fact, she’s “spying” on her roommate, as a sort of game), but it takes her awhile to figure out the truth—that Ava has an eating disorder. 

I never want to write a book that condescends to the main character, or to the kid reader. So even though I’m writing about a twelve year old with imperfect information, or with the (age-approprate) inability to know what all that information means, I still need the main character to be bright, alert, sensitive, worthy of being the focus of the story. Because if the main character is merely unobservant and shallow, why would you want to be in her head for 300 pages?

I think of all my MG books as journeys, with the main character ultimately discovering that people are complex, nothing is simple, and ambiguity is okay. It’s a journey that often begins with that paradoxical state of knowing-and-not-knowing, and ends with acceptance and understanding. 

And—spoiler alert!—in Violets Are Blue, it also ends with forgiveness.

Meet the author

Barbara Dee is the author of twelve middle grade novels published by Simon & Schuster, including Violets Are BlueMy Life in the Fish Tank, Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have earned several starred reviews, have been shortlisted for many state book awards, and have been named to best-of lists including the The Washington Post’s Best Children’s Books, the ALA Notable Children’s Books, the ALA Rise: A Feminist Book Project List, the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People, and the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten. Barbara lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.




About Violets Are Blue

From the author of the acclaimed My Life in the Fish Tank and Maybe He Just Likes You comes a moving and relatable middle grade novel about secrets, family, and the power of forgiveness.

Twelve-year-old Wren loves makeup—special effect makeup, to be exact. When she is experimenting with new looks, Wren can create a different version of herself. A girl who isn’t in a sort-of-best friendship with someone who seems like she hates her. A girl whose parents aren’t divorced and doesn’t have to learn to like her new stepmom.

So, when Wren and her mom move to a new town for a fresh start, she is cautiously optimistic. And things seem to fall into place when Wren meets potential friends and gets selected as the makeup artist for her school’s upcoming production of Wicked.

Only, Wren’s mom isn’t doing so well. She’s taking a lot of naps, starts snapping at Wren for no reason, and always seems to be sick. And what’s worse, Wren keeps getting hints that things aren’t going well at her new job at the hospital, where her mom is a nurse. And after an opening night disaster leads to a heartbreaking discovery, Wren realizes that her mother has a serious problem—a problem that can’t be wiped away or covered up. 

After all the progress she’s made, can Wren start over again with her devastating new normal? And will she ever be able to heal the broken trust with her mom?

ISBN-13: 9781534469181
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 10/12/2021
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years