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What’s it take to run a book club with teens? Author Teri Brown shares her experience

When I set out to run a book club for teens at a community center in a low income apartment complex, I thought it would be a piece of cake.

 

I know, I know. Naïve much?



At the time, I was working fifteen hours a week for the children’s program at Community Partners of Affordable Housing, an organization that fights poverty on many levels. As a teen author, I gravitated toward the middle grade and teen members of the community and starting a book club seemed like a natural fit.

My goal in starting the book club was simple…I wanted the kids to love reading as much as I did. Literacy has always been important to me and this was a way I could share what I loved with others. So I spoke to the powers that be, got the go ahead and started in. A few things became immediately apparent:

First off, free books wouldn’t be enough to fill up the signup sheet. I needed something more. So I decided food would be the draw. Teens love food!

Secondly, coming up with eight to ten of the same books wasn’t easy. Authors often don’t get that many books and most of what we get is earmarked for contests and such. It was during this time that I found out just how awesome the teen lit community is and actually had authors buy other authors books for the club. Amazing.

And third, I would lean on my local fellow teen authors for free visits.

It worked like a charm. Suddenly my spots filled up and I had ten happy, hungry teens. I couldn’t have any more than that as I wasn’t sure I would be able to come up with nine months of free books every year for ten teens, let alone more.

The book club ran for almost four years. I watched several of my teens go from freshmen to proud graduates, overcoming obstacles that most of us couldn’t even imagine. Running a book club for teens at a community center was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done … even if I did feel like a fish out of water more than once.

 A few of the things I learned:

*No matter how much you’re enjoying yourself, someone has to remain firmly in charge. It amazed me just how quickly something fun, such as a spitwad blown through a straw, could disintegrate into a food fight. I know this seems elementary, but it still took me by surprise.

*I tried to offer new food experiences… once we had an English tea and another time we had both cheese and chocolate fondue. Once a year we would do a potluck and they would share their favorite foods…I think it helped them take ownership of our club.

* Two to three times a year I would choose a book from a local author and we would have them come to visit. The visitor would come a bit later so that I could make sure the kids had prepped. They LOVED meeting authors.

* Too my surprise, they loved reading out loud and always asked to do it. I never made someone read but after passing a couple of times, everyone would overcome their shyness, even the kids to whom English was a second language.

One of the things I had to come to grips with is the transitory nature of friendships with teens. They grow up. They move on. Out of the ten kids that started book club with me, three of them are confirmed readers. Two have gone on to higher education, making them the first in their families to do so and I feel confident the third will as soon as she graduates. I’ve lost touch with the others, but hope that they remember our time together with fondness and are still reading books for the love of reading.

Born of Illusion by Teri Brown
June 11, 2013 by Balzer & Bray
Teri Brown is proud of her two children but coming in a close second is the fact that she parachuted out of a plane and beat the original Legend of Zelda video game. She is the author of the Summerset Abbey Series, a New Adult Edwardian trilogy she writes under TJ Brown and the author of Born of Illusion, a Young Adult novel coming out in June 2013 from Balzer +Bray. You can find her at www.tjbrownbooks.com or www.Teribrownbooks.com.

Don’t Miss These Titles! Great Middle Grade and Guy Reads!

At ALA, I happened to pick up a ton of middle grade reads.  Generally, this is not an area which I consider myself very well read but I was thrilled to get my hands on these ARCs and even more excited that I actually really liked them!  Since some of them don’t come out for a while, I can’t officially ‘review’ them, but I can recommend them for your collections!

The first book is Liar & Spy by Rebecca STead (9780385737432, release date 8/7/12, Random House Children’s Books).  Seventh grader Georges (the ‘s’ is silent) moves into a new apartment building and meets Safer, a spy who has started his own spy club (of which no one is a member but Safer UNTIL NOW!).  Together, Georges and Safer decide to uncover the secrets behind mystery man Mr. X, another apartment tenant.  Is he a mass murderer or does he just travel with big bulky suitcases all the time?  Excellent add to the middle grade collection and a good clean read.  Rebecca STead is a former Newbery Award winner and this book did not let me down at all.  (ISBN: 9780385737432, Release Date: 8/7/12, Random House Children’s Books)

Colin Fischer is a book that completely caught me by surprise.  I wanted a copy at ALA because the cover intrigued me.  Invisible boy with pictures of different facial expressions?  I had no idea where Miller and Stentz were going with this book.  Colin Fischer has Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism, and he is a modern day Encyclopedia Brown.  After a disaster in the school cafeteria involving an exploded birthday cake and a gun, the school immediately blames troublemaker Wayne Connelly.  But Colin is dead set that Wayne is innocent and despite Wayne’s treatment of Colin in the past, he decides to prove to everyone that Wayne is innocent.  This is like reading The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time but more toned down.  Great for all ages and I adored Colin’s voice.  (ISBN: 9781595145789, Release Date: 11/8/12, Penguin YRG)

Ungifted by Gordon Korman is every bit as perfect as every Korman novel and never disappoints.  If you’re not familiar with Korman, get familiar.  His books are laugh out loud funny, at times super serious, and all together excellent reads.  Donovan Curtis is your typical troublemaker and after a very disastrous stunt, he is accidentally placed into the Academy for Scholastic Distinction for gifted and talented students.  Faking it so that he can stay out trouble, Donovan immediately sticks out like a sore thumb.  Trying desperately to fit in and to keep out of the limelight, Donovan does everything in his power to seem ‘gifted’ like his classmates.  Another excellent read for all ages and a great addition to all collections.  (ISBN: 9780061742668, Release date: 8/21/12, Balzer + Bray)

SIDENOTE: Liar & Spy and Colin Fischer are both available on Edelweiss!

Book Review: Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown

I am a reader and a librarian, but I am also an aunt.  My sister-in-law has 4 boys, 3 of whom are autistic.  I remember once taking the “typical” sibling to a pizza place for dinner and he looked around in awe and wonder; it was almost like he had just entered Disneyland for the first time.  It was then that I realized that even though he was now in the 3rd grade, this was in fact the first time he had been to a pizza place because when you have 3 autistic siblings – your life is different.  I think often what it must be like to grow up in a home with a sibling (or siblings) that has any type of issues (in part because one of my children has some chronic digestive issues and food allergies).  And earlier this year, TLT teen reviewer Cuyler Creech wrote about his experience being the older sibling to a brother with Down’s Sydrome and Autism.  And this question, this idea of what it is like growing up in a home – under the shadow often – of a sibling with issues is the core of what Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown is about, and she captures it perfectly.

We all knew what Grayson’s “Difficulties” were.
Grayson’s difficulties dominated his life.
and Mom’s and Dad’s. And mine.
Sometimes it felt like especially mine.
(Back jacket copy of Perfect Escape)

Kendra is in the middle of her junior year when her life begins to unravel in new and gloriously complicated ways.  It’s not like her life as ever been easy; how can it be when your older brother has OCD and a variety of anxiety disorders?  But the things that are happening to her now – well, they are entirely her fault.  She has always been the perfect child, trying to overcompensate for all of Grayson’s imperfections.  But what will happen when everyone finds out what she has been up to?
“We could, I thought. We could get away.  The two of us.  Neither of us could go home and pretend life was wonderful. Both of us knew it never would be, even if it was for entirely different reasons.”
(from Perfect Escape by Jennifer Brown)
In a split second decision, Kendra decides to take off with her brother across the country to California to see an old best friend, Zoe.  Years ago Grayson’s difficulties made Zoe’s family leave, but Zoe promised they would never forget one another.  Surely that promise still holds true, and Grayson always seemed the most at peace with Zoe.
As Kendra and Grayson set off across the country, Kendra comes to realize many truths about herself.  There are so many thoughtful discussions about family, sibling relationships, living in the shadow of a sibling – any sibling – and the expectations we put upon ourselves.  There are a couple of those glorious moments that you expect to find in a road trip novel, but this is road trip like no other because this one involves Grayson (more on this in a minute).
Along the way Kendra and Grayson pick up a teen mother named Rena, fleeing with her baby from an abusive older husband.  Like Zoe before, it sometimes seems as if Grayson is slightly better in the presence of Rena.  But none of them have any idea how gloriously Garyson can really melt down, until he finally does and Kendra is the only one around to help him.
Perfect Escape is a thought provoking, touching, well written contemporary novel that touches on some very basic themes.  It also does a tremendous job of providing insight into what it can be like to be the sibling of a person with mental health issues.  This is one of several books that I have read this year dealing with the topic of OCD (The Butterfly Clues by Kate Ellison, for example), although this is the only one that presents a sibling point of view. 
Perfect Escape takes the classic concept of the Road Trip, and puts a unique spin on it by adding all of Grayson’s quirky complications and rituals.  It is hard to drive across the country when you have to walk in and out of a door 36 times (always an even number) and your mind can imagine every health hazard that lays upon the hotel room beds.  It is even harder to have a road trip where you are trying to run away from your problems when those very problems seem to define every moment of who you are and how you have to live your life.  In the end, Kendra realizes that it is not so much that she can cure her brother or run from her own problems, but that she can learn to maybe accept who they both are and try to just go on from there.  Just like real life, there are no neat and tidy resolutions wrapped in pretty packaging and tied with a bow.
There are a couple of interesting things that happen here.  One, our main character, Kendra, is often not a likable character and is even aware on some levels that what she is doing is completely selfish and self destructive – but I found that I somehow cared.  But more importantly, throughout the course of the story she grows and often allows herself to be honest.  In those honest moments, you get a glimpse of just how difficult it has been for her.  It is interesting, too, to hear Grayson discuss that it has been equally hard for him growin up in his sister’s shadow, knowing that he was so completely imperfect and costing his family so much while she was the perfect child he could never hope to be.  The truth is, siblings, no matter who they are and how much they may love each other and be loved at home, can’t seem to escape the comparisons that come from being united by blood and parentage.  Sibling relationships are complicated in the most basic of situations and there is never any escaping the pain and glory that comes from having siblings, whoever they turn out to be.
Well written, emotionally raw, and completely honest, Perfect Escape is the road trip you didn’t know you wanted to take.  The characterization is spot on, the dialogue is sharp, witty and sometimes cuts to the quick like the conversation in most families, and the moments of insight are moving.  If you have a sibling that you haven’t talked to in a while, you will want to pick up the phone when you are done.  And maybe, just maybe, teen readers will take a look up from their book and pause for just a moment as they consider their own siblings.  4 out of 5 stars for the rich emotional journey that is Perfect Escape.
Topics discussed in Perfect Escape include OCD, siblings, cheating in school, loss of friendship, running away, teen moms and perfectionism.  Every library should purchase this book because it touches on important topics (OCD is often a co-diagnosis with Autism, both of which are growing in incidence among today’s youth) and presents an important POV, being the sibling of an individual with mental health issues.  Perfect Escape will be published in July by Little, Brown School (978-0-316-18557-8)

Antidisestablishmentarianism and the magic of words, a guest post by Anne Greenwood Brown

The birth of a guest blog post:  The other day author Anne Greenwood Brown tweeted that she had nothing to write that day and I, seeing an open door, tweeted back: “Why don’t you write a guest blog post ::cough:: Wait, did I say that out loud?”  And she said, “What about?”  To which I replied, “Mermaids? A teen book you love? Antidestablishmentarianism?” 

Why antidisestablishmentarianism?  Well, in part because I was being a smart mouth.  But also in part because I have always loved that word – it is fun to say.  I am also a huge fan of onomatopoeia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, guffaw, and more.  Some words just have an amazing sound to them.  So today, Anne Greenwood Brown, author of Lies Beneath, writes about antidisestablishmentarianism – and the magic of words.  It turns out, I am not the only one who loves that word.

After Karen suggested I write a post about “antidisestablishmentarianism,”  she said she was kidding, but I sort of took her up on it. I LOVE that word! I have since I was nine and  regaled my third grade classmates with my knowledge of the so-called longest word in the English language. Well… regaled might be a little strong. While my friends ran off to play kick ball, I contemplated my fascination of words, and it’s a fascination I have never lost.
For me as a writer, word choice is a labor of love. I try to pick words, particularly verbs, that create an emotional response, inform the character, and give a deeper level of understanding. For example, in Chapter 10 of Lies Beneath (my YA novel about murderous mermaids on Lake Superior), I used the setting to reflect the main character Calder White’s state of mind:
 “The aspens grew haphazardly, clinging to the bank, often shooting out in precarious angles over the water.”

I could have said that the aspens simply grew out of the bank, but using the words haphazardly, clinging, and precarious, the setting better informs Calder’s character. Just as the trees cling to the earth, Calder clings to his humanity. The tree fights gravity just as Calder fights his nature, and there’s always the threat that the tree (or Calder) will lose its grip and fall into the lake.

This part of the writing process takes the most time for me. While I can get a first draft done quickly, the polishing takes much longer. To illustrate, here’s an excerpt from the first draft of Chapter 1:

“The transformation began immediately. I thrashed noisily on the rock, muffling my screams of pain. When it was over–the culmination of my metamorphosis punctuated by a giant snap–I pushed myself to standing and turned my back on the ocean.”


The “sh” sound in thrash, theff” in muffling, and the “ph” in metamorphosis were too soft, and it resulted in a passage that didn’t pack the right punch. In the finished version, that same paragraph reads like this:

 “The transformation began before I could catch my breath. First the tightening–and then the ripping as my body strained and pulled against itself. Bones split and stretched, popping into joints that seconds ago didn’t exist. I thrashed silently on the dead coral, cutting my shoulder and gritting my teeth against the pain, until I eventually flopped onto my back, gasping and bleeding on the rock.”

It’s not just that the second version has more detail, but there’s a nice strain of alliteration in the first sentence. Moreover, the words tight, rip, strain, split, stretched, pop, and thrash create a more visceral reaction of pain. Also using alliteration of the hard “t” in quick succession: split, stretched, joints, exist, cutting, gritting, teeth put more “bite” into the pain. Finally, at the end, the soft “p” of flop and gasp give the exhausted feeling of culmination that the first paragraph didn’t master.

Maggie Stiefvater uses a similar technique in Shiver when she writes:

  “Their tongues melted my skin; their careless teeth ripped at my sleeves and snagged through my hair, pushed against my collarbone, the pulse at my neck.”

The double “pp” of rippedand the double “gg” of snagged are harsh and violent words, while the softer tones of push and pulse, hint at something gentler yet to come.

Laini Taylor plays soft and hard sounds against each other in Daughter of Smoke & Bone to describe the dichotomy of her character Kaz when she says:

“That was Kaz: carnal and elegant. And deceitful. And narcissistic.”
Compare the soft “l”s of carnal and elegant against the hard “t”s of deceit and the final “tic.” Later, Taylor’s use of the repeating “s” sound evokes the release of air as something or someone deflates:

“His eyes were sunk in bruises, and his teeth, which were not his own, were over large in his shrunken face.”

Sometimes the scene can be conjured not just with the words themselves, but in their arrangement. For example, Stiefvater’s Shiver begins,

“I remember lying in the snow, a small red spot of warm going cold, surrounded by wolves.”

In this introduction, Grace is the small red spot, and that description of her comes in the middle of the sentence, surrounded on both sides by the snow and the wolves.

So what do you do with all this? For those of you who are writing, think about the kinds of sounds that evoke the emotion you’re trying to create, then look for similarly constructed words to help sustain the emotional thread. I think you’ll find the text becomes richer, the characters more full bodied, and the reader more satisfied. Same thing when you’re reading–if you come across a passage that makes you feel strongly about the characters or the plot, take a second to pause and really look at the choices the author has made. See if you can discover the magic behind the words.

About Lies Beneath

“I hadn’t killed anyone all winter, and I have to say I felt pretty good about that.”

Calder White lives in the cold, clear waters of Lake Superior, the only brother in a family of murderous mermaids. To survive, Calder and his sisters prey on humans, killing them to absorb their energy. But this summer the underwater clan targets Jason Hancock out of pure revenge. They blame Hancock for their mother’s death and have been waiting a long time for him to return to his family’s homestead on the lake. Hancock has a fear of water, so to lure him in, Calder sets out to seduce Hancock’s daughter, Lily. Easy enough—especially as Calder has lots of practice using his irresistible good looks and charm on unsuspecting girls. Only this time Calder screws everything up: he falls for Lily—just as Lily starts to suspect that there’s more to the monsters-in-the-lake legends than she ever imagined. And just as his sisters are losing patience with him. (From Goodreads)
“Forget everything you think you know about merpeople. Forget that freaking Ariel, think Silence of the Lambs, think Friday the Thirteenth.

Anne Greenwood Brown lives and writes in Minnesota. LIES BENEATH, her debut Young Adult novel about murderous mermaids on Lake Superior, will be released by Random House/Delacorte next Tuesday June 12th.

Lies Beneath (Random House/ Delacorte, June 12, 2012)

Deep Betrayal (Random House/Delacorte, March 2013)

Check out the Lies Beneath Book Trailer HERE

And the Audio Book Teaser HERE

I want to give a huge thanks to Anne Greenwood Brown for responding to my impromptu Tweet and writing such an excellent guest blog post.  Tell us your favorite words in the comments.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2019 Showcase: Books featuring beasties, a killer flu, a changeling, and pirates

Two days after I mailed out 33 books to donate to teachers/schools, this giant box showed up. My family gets a kick out of the fact that no matter how many books I sort through and ship out, just as many appear within days, filling my office back up. The UPS driver deserves a medal for having to walk up our steep driveway almost every day.

All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to teen readers I know, to classroom libraries of friends, to my own school, my kid’s school, or in giveaways. I can’t read/review every book I get, but it’s fun to be able to sift through boxes and see what grabs my attention, and to see what books will find loving new homes with the right reader.

Today I’m sharing with you forthcoming titles from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All annotations are from the publisher. Watch my Twitter (@CiteSomething) for giveaways, where some of these titles will be included! 

Midnight Beauties by Megan Shepherd (ISBN-13: 9781328811905 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 08/13/2019 Series: Grim Lovelies Series)

The witches, beasties, goblins, and Royals return in this spellbinding conclusion to New York Times best-selling author Megan Shepherd’s Grim Lovelies duology.

Ever since she discovered her affinity for magic, seventeen-year-old Anouk has been desperate to become a witch. It’s the only way to save her friends who, like Anouk, are beasties: animals enchanted into humans. But unlike Anouk, the other beasties didn’t make it out of the battle at Montélimar in one piece.

With her friends now trapped in their animal forms, Anouk is forced into a sinister deal involving a political marriage with her sworn enemy, a wicked plot to overthrow London’s fiercest coven of witches, and a deadly trial of fire to become a witch. The price for power has always been steep in the world of the Haute. Now, it will cost Anouk everything.

Wicked and delightful, this spellbinding sequel and conclusion to Grim Lovelies is perfect for fans of The Cruel Prince and The Hazel Wood.

Fever Year: The Killer Flu of 1918 by Don Brown (ISBN-13: 9780544837409 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 09/03/2019)

From the Sibert honor-winning creator behind The Unwanted and Drowned City comes a graphic novel of one of the darkest episodes in American history: the Spanish Influenza epidemic of 1918.

New Year’s Day, 1918. America has declared war on Germany and is gathering troops to fight. But there’s something coming that is deadlier than any war.

When people begin to fall ill, most Americans don’t suspect influenza. The flu is known to be dangerous to the very old, young, or frail. But the Spanish flu is exceptionally violent. Soon, thousands of people succumb. Then tens of thousands . . . hundreds of thousands and more. Graves can’t be dug quickly enough.

What made the influenza of 1918 so exceptionally deadly—and what can modern science help us understand about this tragic episode in history? With a journalist’s discerning eye for facts and an artist’s instinct for true emotion, Sibert Honor recipient Don Brown sets out to answer these questions and more in Fever Year.

Only Ashes Remain by Rebecca Schaeffer (ISBN-13: 9781328863553 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 09/03/2019 Series: Market of Monsters Series #2)

Dexter meets Victoria Schwab in this dark and compelling fantasy about a girl who seeks revenge on the boy who betrayed her, a sequel to the critically-acclaimed Not Even Bones.

After escaping her kidnappers and destroying the black market where she was held captive, all Nita wants is to find a way to live her life without looking over her shoulder. But with a video of her ability to self-heal all over the dark web, Nita knows she’s still a prime target on the black market. There’s only one way to keep herself safe. Nita must make herself so feared that no one would ever dare come after her again. And the best way to start building her reputation? Take her revenge on Fabricio, the boy who sold Nita to her kidnappers. But killing Fabricio is harder than Nita thought it would be, even with Kovit by her side. Now caught in a game of kill or be killed, Nita will do whatever it takes to win.

Guest: A Changeling Tale by Mary Downing Hahn (ISBN-13: 9780358067313 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 09/03/2019)

From the master of spookiness, Mary Downing Hahn. When malicious sprites called the Kinde Folke snatch Mollie’s baby brother and replace him with a hideous changeling, Mollie travels through eerie, perilous lands to save him.

When her adorable baby brother is replaced by an ugly, ill-tempered changeling, Mollie is determined to find the so-called Kinde Folke who took baby Thomas, return the changeling she calls Guest, and make them give Thomas back. Natural and magical obstacles and her own reckless temperament make her journey arduous and full of dangers, and a plot rich in surprises and twists makes this book a must-read for Mary Downing Hahn’s fans.

The Vanderbeekers to the Rescue by Karina Yan Glaser (ISBN-13: 9781328577573 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 09/17/2019)

NYT Bestselling series! Harlem’s favorite family returns in the third installment in the Vanderbeerkers series, wherein the Vanderbeeker kids find themselves racing to save their mother’s baking business from city closure. Illustrated with delightful black and white illustrations.

For the Vanderbeeker kids of Harlem’s 141st Street, spring break couldn’t be off to a better start. Isa’s back from band camp, Oliver’s building his first-ever treehouse in the backyard of the brownstone, and Laney, Jess, and Hyacinth are excited to help their mother when she gets the once-in-a-lifetime chance to star in a cooking magazine.

But the Vanderbeekers’ plans go off the rails when an unexpected visit from city officials puts their mother’s bakery in jeopardy. Now they’ll have to band together to save the day before they’re out of business. Perfect for fans of The Penderwicks and Front Desk.

Endangered Operation by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (ISBN-13: 9781328629074 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 10/01/2019 Series: Carmen Sandiego Choose-Your-Own Capers Series)

Join Carmen Sandiego and decide where in the world to go next in this globe-trotting, daring caper! Help Carmen save wild animals of all kinds, especially the rare Amur tiger cub kidnapped from you by VILE. With 20 possible endings, your adventures can take you all over the world—or out of the game. Which will you choose?

In this choose-your-own-caper story set in the world of Carmen Sandiego, you are a junior zookeeper caring for a rare newborn Amur tiger cub. VILE, in its latest plot, is stealing exotic animals to sell to a billionaire collector, and your charge is cub-napped! Carmen arrives and you decide the best way to get your cub back is to help her defeat VILE and rescue all the animals they’ve captured. Or do you? Twenty different endings to this story keep readers coming back for more adventures with Carmen Sandiego!

Emmy in the Key of Code by Aimee Lucido (ISBN-13: 9780358040828 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 09/24/2019)

In this innovative middle grade novel, coding and music take center stage as new girl Emmy tries to find her place in a new school. Perfect for fans of GIRLS WHO CODE series and THE CROSSOVER.

In a new city, at a new school, twelve-year-old Emmy has never felt more out of tune. Things start to look up when she takes her first coding class, unexpectedly connecting with the material—and Abigail, a new friend—through a shared language: music. But when Emmy gets bad news about their computer teacher, and finds out Abigail isn’t being entirely honest about their friendship, she feels like her new life is screeching to a halt. Despite these obstacles, Emmy is determined to prove one thing: that, for the first time ever, she isn’t a wrong note, but a musician in the world’s most beautiful symphony.

Anya and the Dragon by Sofiya Pasternack (ISBN-13: 9780358006077 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 09/24/2019)

This lush tale of magic and dragons is a gem for any adventure-seeking middle grader and perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time.

Anya and the Dragon is the story of fantasy and mayhem in tenth century Eastern Europe, where headstrong eleven-year-old Anya is a daughter of the only Jewish family in her village. When her family’s livelihood is threatened by a bigoted magistrate, Anya is lured in by a friendly family of fools, who promise her money in exchange for helping them capture the last dragon in Kievan Rus. This seems easy enough, until she finds out that the scary old dragon isn’t as old—or as scary—as everyone thought. Now Anya is faced with a choice: save the dragon, or save her family.


Lintang and the Pirate Queen by Tamara Moss (ISBN-13: 9781328460301 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 10/15/2019)

Gutsy girls and strong women make up the diverse and appealing crew of a pirate ship that battles intrigue and deadly monsters in an action-filled fantasy adventure.

“Combine a pirate adventure of mythic proportions, a uniquely charming cast of characters, and a vivid new fantasy world and you get Lintang and the Pirate Queen. Magical, inventive, and positively unforgettable.”—Marissa Meyer, bestselling author of The Lunar Chronicles

Lintang is an island girl who longs for daring and danger. When she meets the feared pirate, Captain Shira, and her all-female crew, Lintang is determined to join them. Secrets within secrets, life-or-death battles with spectacular monsters, and hair’s breadth escapes keep readers turning the pages of a story populated by women of color who are fighters, adventurers, and leaders.

Santa’s Puppy by Catherine Hapka (ISBN-13: 9780358051848 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 10/15/2019)

Homeward Bound meets Elf in this heartwarming tale for the whole family. Can Chris, Holly, and Ivy help Santa’s dog Peppermint Bark jingle all the way home to the North Pole before Christmas Day ends?

For 364 days of the year, Santa and his best friend, Peppermint Bark, are inseparable. Santa’s fluffy white dog helps herd the reindeer, keep tabs on the elves, and check the list—twice. But though Peppermint Bark asks every Christmas, he never gets to join Santa on his sleigh ride around the world. Until the dog decides to stow away . . .

When eight- and eleven-year-old Chris and Holly Kerstman discover a small white dog wedged in their chimney on Christmas morning, they can’t imagine where he came from, until he tells them. Peppermint Bark is unlike any dog they and Holly’s best friend, Ivy, have ever met: His breath smells of mint, faint jingle bells can be heard when he wags his tail, and he can talk! He tells the kids all about his secret sleigh ride and how he got accidentally left behind on their rooftop, but when it comes to answering the question of how he’ll get home to the North Pole, Peppermint Bark is stumped. It’s up to the kids to work together to get Peppermint Bark home before the last magical portal to the North Pole closes at midnight on Christmas Day. A Christmas tale with enough heartwarming moments and heart-pounding action to entertain the entire family this holiday!

A Talent for Trouble by Natasha Farrant (ISBN-13: 9781328580788 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 11/19/2019)

A girl determined to follow her dream persuades two friends to join her for an off-the-grid adventure that becomes a survival story as they confront storms, illness, injury, and a gang of international jewel thieves.

Desperate to meet up with her unpredictable father, quiet Alice persuades two friends to abandon their boarding school’s orienteering exercise and head for a remote, inaccessible island. As they confront storms, illness, injury, and a gang of international jewel thieves, the quest tests their courage and loyalty and strengthens the bonds of friendship. Readers will cheer the runaways on, laugh with them at their foibles, and share Alice’s pleasure in overcoming the obstacles that stand in her way. This combination adventure, school story, and family story will delight fans of all three genres.

Dog Driven by Terry Lynn Johnson (ISBN-13: 9781328551597 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 12/03/2019)

From the author of Ice Dogs, comes a riveting adventure about a musher who sets out to prove her impaired vision won’t hold her back from competing in a rigorous sled race through the Canadian wilderness. Perfect for fans of Gary Paulsen.

McKenna Barney is trying to hide her worsening eyesight and has been isolating herself for the last year. But at the request of her little sister, she signs up for a commemorative mail run race in the Canadian wilderness—a race she doesn’t know if she can even see to run. 

Winning would mean getting her disease—and her sister’s—national media coverage, but it would also pit McKenna and her team of eight sled dogs against racers from across the globe for three days of shifting lake ice, sudden owl attacks, snow squalls, and bitterly cold nights.

 A page-turning adventure about living with disability and surviving the wilderness, Dog Driven is the story of one girl’s self-determination and the courage it takes to trust in others.

Hearts, Strings, and Other Breakable Things by Jacqueline Firkins (ISBN-13: 9781328635198nPublisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 12/17/2019

In this charming debut about first love and second chances, a young girl gets caught between the boy next door and a playboy. Perfect for fans of To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before

Mansfield, Massachusetts, is the last place seventeen-year-old Edie Price wants to spend her final summer before college.  It’s the home of wealthy suburban mothers and prima donnas like Edie’s cousins, who are determined to distract her from her mother’s death with cute boys and Cinderella-style makeovers. She’s got her own plans, and they don’t include any prince charming.

But as she dives into schoolwork and getting a scholarship for college, Edie finds herself drawn to two Mansfield boys strumming for her attention: First, there’s Sebastian, Edie’s childhood friend and first love, who’s sweet and smart and . . . already has a girlfriend. Then there’s Henry, the local bad boy and all-around player who’s totally off limits—even if his kisses are chemically addictive.

Both boys are trouble. Edie can’t help herself from being caught between them. Now, she just has to make sure it isn’t her heart that breaks in the process.

The Mystwick School of Musicraft by Jessica Khoury (ISBN-13: 9781328625632 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 01/21/2020)

Humor and heart shine in this middle-grade fantasy about a girl who attends a boarding school to learn how to use music to create magic, perfect for fans of Nevermoor and The School for Good and Evil series.

Amelia Jones always dreamed of attending the Mystwick School of Musicraft, where the world’s most promising musicians learn to create magic. So when Amelia botches her audition, she thinks her dream has met an abrupt and humiliating end—until the school agrees to give her a trial period. Amelia is determined to prove herself, vowing to do whatever it takes to become the perfect musician. Even if it means pretending to be someone she isn’t. Meanwhile, a mysterious storm is brewing that no one, not even the maestros at Mystwick, is prepared to contain. Can Amelia find the courage to be true to herself in time to save her beloved school from certain destruction?

The Stars We Steal by Alexa Donne ( ISBN-13: 9781328948946 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 02/04/2020)

Engagement season is in the air. Eighteen-year-old Princess Leonie “Leo” Kolburg, heir to a faded European spaceship, only has one thing on her mind: which lucky bachelor can save her family from financial ruin? 

But when Leo’s childhood friend and first love Elliot returns as the captain of a successful whiskey ship, everything changes. Elliot was the one that got away, the boy Leo’s family deemed to be unsuitable for marriage. Now, he’s the biggest catch of the season and he seems determined to make Leo’s life miserable. But old habits die hard, and as Leo navigates the glittering balls of the Valg Season, she finds herself failing for her first love in a game of love, lies, and past regrets.


Ink in the Blood by Kim Smejkal (ISBN-13: 9781328557056 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 02/11/2020)

A lush, dark YA fantasy debut that weaves together tattoo magic, faith, and eccentric theater in a world where lies are currency and ink is a weapon, perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Kendare Blake.

Celia Sand and her best friend, Anya Burtoni, are inklings for the esteemed religion of Profeta. Using magic, they tattoo followers with beautiful images that represent the Divine’s will and guide the actions of the recipients. It’s considered a noble calling, but ten years into their servitude Celia and Anya know the truth: Profeta is built on lies, the tattooed orders strip away freedom, and the revered temple is actually a brutal, torturous prison.

Their opportunity to escape arrives with the Rabble Mob, a traveling theater troupe. Using their inkling abilities for performance instead of propaganda, Celia and Anya are content for the first time . . . until they realize who followed them. The Divine they never believed in is very real, very angry, and determined to use Celia, Anya, and the Rabble Mob’s now-infamous stage to spread her deceitful influence even further.

To protect their new family from the wrath of a malicious deity and the zealots who work in her name, Celia and Anya must unmask the biggest lie of all—Profeta itself.

Post-It Note Reviews: Detained children, awkward moments, the history of vaccines, and more.

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

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.

Illustrations for this book by Cecilia Ruiz, Yuyi Morales, Juan Palomino, Paco Santoyo, Adriana Campos, Salomon Duarte Granados, Flavia Zorrilla Drago, Bayo Flores, Edith Valle, Gloria Felix, Mirelle Ortega, Maria Lumbreras, Addy Rivera Sonda, Beatriz Gutierrez Hernandez, Daniela Martin del Campo, Dominique Arce, Raul Gonzalez III

Hear My Voice/Escucha mi voz: The Testimonies of Children Detained at the Southern Border of the United States by Warren Binford (Compiler), Michael Garcia Bochenek (Foreword by) (ISBN-13: 9781523513482 Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc. Publication date: 04/13/2021, Ages 8+)

The Testimony of Children 

A moving picture book for older children and families that introduces a difficult topic, amplifying the voices and experiences of immigrant children detained at the border between Mexico and the US. The children’s actual words (from publicly available court documents) are assembled to tell one heartbreaking story, in both English and Spanish (back to back). Each spread is illustrated in striking full-color by a different Latinx artist. A portion of sales will be donated to human rights organizations that work with children on the border.

(POST-IT SAYS: Educational and absolutely heartbreaking. The words of the children and their experiences are just gutting. A forward and back matter give more info, questions to think on, and ways to help. An essential purchase.)

So Embarrassing: Awkward Moments and How to Get Through Them by Charise Mericle Harper (ISBN-13: 9781523510177 Publisher: Workman Publishing Company, Inc. Publication date: 11/10/2020, Ages 8-12)

A graphic novel that makes embarrassment into something hilarious – and normal.
 
You’re not alone! No way are you the first kid who ever tripped and fell in public. Or spilled water on your pants so it looked like… you know! For those moments and more, here’s, the book that understands what you’re going through when you get caught farting in class.
 
Laugh-out-loud funny yet enormously compassionate, So Embarrassing is a comics-style compilation of stories about awkward and embarrassing situations for kids. Written and drawn by Charise Mericle Harper, the bestselling creator of the Just Grace series, So Embarrassing combines humor, science facts (what happens when we blush, for example), tips for quickly recovering from a cringe-worthy situation, and practical advice––like what to say to comfort a totally embarrassed friend.

(POST-IT SAYS: While not perfect—this book won’t do much to alleviate actual anxiety—it covers a lot of ground on how we all can get embarrassed and advice on how to react and cope. The comics style adds appeal, but busy text-packed pages may overwhelm readers. Less of a useful tool and more just examples of embarrassment.)

The Key to You and Me by Jaye Robin Brown (ISBN-13: 9780062824585 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/20/2021, Ages 14-17)

A sweet and funny ownvoices LGBTQ+ romance perfect for fans of Becky Albertalli and Julie Murphy, from the critically acclaimed author of Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit!

Piper Kitts is spending the summer living with her grandmother, training at the barn of a former Olympic horseback rider, and trying to get over her ex-girlfriend. Much to Piper’s dismay, her grandmother is making her face her fear of driving by taking lessons from a girl in town.

Kat Pearson has always suspected that she likes girls but fears her North Carolina town is too small to color outside the lines. But when Piper’s grandmother hires Kat to give her driving lessons, everything changes.

Piper’s not sure if she’s ready to let go of her ex. Kat’s navigating uncharted territory with her new crush. With the summer running out, will they be able to unlock a future together?

(POST-IT SAYS: Alternate narration lets readers into the minds of already out Piper and Kat, who’s still figuring out here attractions and identity. The quiet plot centers more on coming to terms with identity and moving on from a not great relationship. Character-driven readers will enjoy watching the characters figure it all out.)

Amina’s Song by Hena Khan (ISBN-13: 9781534459885 Publisher: Salaam Reads / Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/09/2021 Series: Amina’s Voice Series #2, Ages 8-12)

In the companion novel to the beloved and award-winning Amina’s Voice, Amina once again uses her voice to bridge the places, people, and communities she loves—this time across continents. 

It’s the last few days of her vacation in Pakistan, and Amina has loved every minute of it. The food, the shops, the time she’s spent with her family—all of it holds a special place in Amina’s heart. Now that the school year is starting again, she’s sad to leave, but also excited to share the wonders of Pakistan with her friends back in Greendale. 

After she’s home, though, her friends don’t seem overly interested in her trip. And when she decides to do a presentation on Pakistani hero Malala Yousafzai, her classmates focus on the worst parts of the story. How can Amina share the beauty of Pakistan when no one wants to listen?

(POST-IT SAYS: So glad to get more Amina. A lovely story about identity, voice, culture, and connection. Emily, Soojin, and new friend Nico, along with Rabiya and Amina’s extended family add so much to the story and Amina’s exploration of self. A delight.)

Delicates by Brenna Thummler (ISBN-13: 9781620107881 Publisher: Oni Press Publication date: 03/23/2021 Series: Sheets #2, Ages 12+)

Following the events of the bestselling graphic novel, SheetsDelicates brings Brenna Thummler’s beloved characters, artwork, and charm back to life.

Marjorie Glatt’s life hasn’t been the same ever since she discovered a group of ghosts hiding in her family’s laundromat. Wendell, who died young and now must wander Earth as a ghost with nothing more than a sheet for a body, soon became one of Marjorie’s only friends. But when Marjorie finally gets accepted by the popular kids at school, she begins to worry that if anyone learns about her secret ghost friends, she’ll be labeled as a freak who sees dead people. With Marjorie’s insistence on keeping Wendell’s ghost identity a secret from her new friends, Wendell begins to feel even more invisible than he already is.

Eliza Duncan feels invisible too. She’s an avid photographer, and her zealous interest in finding and photographing ghosts gets her labeled as “different” by all the other kids in school. Constantly feeling on the outside, Eliza begins to feel like a ghost herself. Marjorie must soon come to terms with the price she pays to be accepted by the popular kids. Is it worth losing her friend, Wendell? Is she partially to blame for the bullying Eliza endures?

Delicates tells a powerful story about what it means to fit in, and those left on the outside. It shows what it’s like to feel invisible, and the importance of feeling seen. Above all, it is a story of asking for help when all seems dark, and bringing help and light to those who need it most.

(POST-IT SAYS: A strong sequel to Sheets with a deep but delicate (sorry!) look at bullying, suicide, grief, loneliness, and what it means to be a ghost. Emotional and sensitive. Now I want a volume all about Wendell.)

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire by Joy McCullough (ISBN-13: 9780525556053 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 02/09/2021, Ages 14-17)

From the author of the acclaimed Blood Water Paint, a new contemporary YA novel in prose and verse about a girl struggling with guilt and a desire for revenge after her sister’s rapist escapes with no prison time.

Em Morales’s older sister was raped by another student after a frat party. A jury eventually found the rapist guilty on all counts—a remarkable verdict that Em felt more than a little responsible for, since she was her sister’s strongest advocate on social media during the trial. Her passion and outspokenness helped dissuade the DA from settling for a plea deal. Em’s family would have real justice. 

But the victory is short-lived. In a matter of minutes, justice vanishes as the judge turns the Morales family’s world upside down again by sentencing the rapist to no prison time. While her family is stunned, Em is literally sick with rage and guilt. To make matters worse, a news clip of her saying that the sentence makes her want to learn “how to use a sword” goes viral.

From this low point, Em must find a new reason to go on and help her family heal, and she finds it in the unlikely form of the story of a fifteenth-century French noblewoman, Marguerite de Bressieux, who is legendary as an avenging knight for rape victims.

We Are the Ashes, We Are the Fire is a searing and nuanced portrait of a young woman torn between a persistent desire for revenge and a burning need for hope.

(POST-IT SAYS: Good god—what a read. A deeply emotional story about rape, anger, vengeance, power, and controlling the narrative. Em’s righteous fury and need for some action and control power her fascinating story of a noblewoman knight. Intense and stunning.)

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly (ISBN-13: 9780062970428 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/04/2021 Series: Maybe Marisol #1, Ages 7-9)

Introducing eight-year-old Marisol Rainey—an irresistible new character from Newbery Medalist and New York Times–bestselling Erin Entrada Kelly!

Maybe, Maybe Marisol Rainey is an illustrated novel about summer, friendship, and overcoming fears, told with warm humor and undeniable appeal. Fans of Clementine, The Year of Billy Miller, and Ramona the Pest will be thrilled to meet Marisol.

Marisol Rainey’s mother was born in the Philippines. Marisol’s father works and lives part-time on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. And Marisol, who has a big imagination and likes to name inanimate objects, has a tree in her backyard she calls Peppina . . . but she’s way too scared to climb it. This all makes Marisol the only girl in her small Louisiana town with a mother who was born elsewhere and a father who lives elsewhere (most of the time)—the only girl who’s fearful of adventure and fun.

Will Marisol be able to salvage her summer and have fun with Jada, her best friend? Maybe. Will Marisol figure out how to get annoying Evie Smythe to leave her alone? Maybe. Will Marisol ever get to spend enough real time with her father? Maybe. Will Marisol find the courage to climb Peppina? Maybe.  

Told in short chapters with illustrations by the author on nearly every page, Maybe, Maybe Marisol Rainey is a must-have for early elementary grade readers. Erin Entrada Kelly celebrates the small but mighty Marisol, the joys of friendship, and the triumph of overcoming your fears in this stunning new novel for readers of Kevin Henkes, Meg Medina, Andrew Clements, Sara Pennypacker,  and Kate DiCamillo. 

Features black-and-white artwork throughout by Erin Entrada Kelly.

(POST-IT SAYS: A perfect little book about fears, friendship, and feelings. With Marisol being biracial (white and Filipino) and best pal Jada Black, this is an especially great addition to books for elementary readers. Lots to love here.)

A Shot in the Arm!: Big Ideas that Changed the World #3 by Don Brown (ISBN-13: 9781419750014 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/20/2021, Ages 8-12)

Award-winning author Don Brown explores the history of vaccines from smallpox to COVID-19 in this installment of the Big Ideas That Changed the World series

A Shot in the Arm! explores the history of vaccinations and the struggle to protect people from infectious diseases, from smallpox—perhaps humankind’s greatest affliction to date—to the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting deadly diseases such as measles, polio, rabies, cholera, and influenza, Brown tackles the science behind how our immune systems work, the discovery of bacteria, the anti-vaccination movement, and major achievements from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who popularized inoculation in England, and from scientists like Louis Pasteur, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, and Edward Jenner, the “father of immunology.” Timely and fascinating, A Shot in the Arm! is a reminder of vaccines’ contributions to public health so far, as well as the millions of lives they can still save.

Big Ideas That Changed the World is a graphic novel series that celebrates the hard-won succession of ideas that ultimately changed the world. Humor, drama, and art unite to tell the story of events, discoveries, and ingenuity over time that led humans to come up with a big idea and then make it come true.

(POST-IT SAYS: The timeliest of books! I’m a huge fan of Don Brown and he does a great job of making the history of vaccines extremely accessible and interesting. Readers will be fascinated!)

Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre by Alverne Ball, Stacey Robinson (Illustrator), Reynaldo Anderson (Contribution by), Colette Yellow Robe (Contribution by) (ISBN-13: 9781419755170 Publisher: Abrams ComicArts – Megascope Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 10-14)

One hundred years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, Across the Tracks is a celebration and memorial of Greenwood, Oklahoma

In Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre, author Alverne Ball and illustrator Stacey Robinson have crafted a love letter to Greenwood, Oklahoma. Also known as Black Wall Street, Greenwood was a community whose importance is often overshadowed by the atrocious massacre that took place there in 1921.

Across the Tracks introduces the reader to the businesses and townsfolk who flourished in this unprecedented time of prosperity for Black Americans. We learn about Greenwood and why it is essential to remember the great achievements of the community as well as the tragedy which nearly erased it. However, Ball is careful to recount the eventual recovery of Greenwood. With additional supplementary materials including a detailed preface, timeline, and historical essay, Across the Tracks offers a thorough examination of the rise, fall, and rebirth of Black Wall Street.

(POST-IT SAYS: Pair this with Randi Pink’s Angel of Greenwood for a fuller look at the Tulsa Race Massacre. This is a quick but informational overview of how this Black community grew to thrive and then was destroyed. Educational and important.)

Ways to Grow Love by Renée Watson, Nina Mata (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781547600588 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 04/27/2021 Series: A Ryan Hart Story #2, Ages 7-10)

Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Award winner Renée Watson continues her charming young middle grade series starring Ryan Hart, a girl who is pure spirit and sunshine.

Ryan Hart and her family are back in another installment of stories about a Black girl finding her way and her voice as she grows through change and challenges. In this book, Ryan finds herself waiting on lots of things — like for her new sister to be born healthy, for her new recipes to turn out right, for that summer camp trip to go better than she fears! And of course Ryan is facing these new challenges and new experiences in her classic style — with a bright outlook and plenty of spirit!

(POST-IT SAYS: You need to know this new series. Sweet summer adventures—the library, camp, an amusement park—mix perfectly with small fears about family and friendships changing. Full of love, kindness, and caring.)

Book Mail: New and upcoming titles for all ages

YAY! Book mail is starting to be a near-daily thing at my house again. So much of the pandemic shut that down and I’d go weeks sometimes with only a book or two arriving. I’m sure the UPS guy is happy to have his daily stop at my house back on his route.

I share all of the book mail that comes in on my Twitter when it arrives, so if you’re not already doing so, hop on over there and follow me. I also give away 100% of the books I get, with giveaways every few weeks on Twitter, often only for teachers and librarians. Everything that comes into my house goes back out in some fashion to find a new reader. Many of the books I get are reviewed here at TLT as either longer, in-depth reviews or quick Post-It Note reviews. Try as I may, I cannot read everything!

Thanks, as always, to all the great publishers, publicists, and authors who keep me in good books.

All summaries from the publishers.

Poison Priestess by Lana Popovic (ISBN-13: 9781419745928 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/06/2021 Series: Lady Slayers, Ages 14-18)

Book 2 in the Lady Slayers series, about French murderess and fortune teller Catherine Monvoisin

In 17th-century Paris, 19-year-old Catherine Monvoisin is a well-heeled jeweler’s wife with a peculiar taste for the arcane. She lives a comfortable life, far removed from a childhood of abject destitution—until her kind spendthrift of a husband lands them both in debt. Hell-bent on avoiding a return to poverty, Catherine must rely on her prophetic visions and the grimoire gifted to her by a talented diviner to reinvent herself as a sorceress. With the help of the grifter Marie Bosse, Catherine divines fortunes in the IIle de la Citee—home to sorcerers and scoundrels.
There she encounters the Marquise de Montespan, a stunning noblewoman. When the Marquise becomes Louis XIV’s royal mistress with Catherine’s help, her ascension catapults Catherine to notoriety. Catherine takes easily to her glittering new life as the Sorceress La Voisin, pitting the depraved noblesse against one other to her advantage. The stakes soar ever higher when her path crosses with that of a young magician. A charged rivalry between sorceress and magician leads to Black Masses, tangled deceptions, and grisly murder—and sets Catherine on a collision course that threatens her own life.

13 Things Strong Kids Do: Think Big, Feel Good, Act Brave by Amy Morin, Jennifer Naalchigar (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9780063008489 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 04/06/2021, Ages 8-12)

The internationally bestselling author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, Amy Morin, empowers tweens, teaching them how to think, feel, and act stronger than ever! Perfect for fans of The Confidence Code for Girls, this book tackles mental strength in a relatable way. Filled with fun graphics and illustrations throughout.

“This book is a powerful gift to kids—it shows them how to help themselves!” —Claire Shipman, New York Times bestselling coauthor of The Confidence Code for Girls

Do you worry that you don’t fit in? Do you feel insecure sometimes? Do you wish your life looked as perfect as everyone else on social media? Do you have anxiety about things you can’t control? Being a tween can be really hard, especially in today’s world.

You balance it all—homework, extracurricular activities, chores, friendship drama, and family, all while trying to give the impression that you know exactly what you’re doing. Sometimes when we try to look perfect on the outside, we can feel rotten in the inside.  Do you want to become a stronger person, inside and out? By picking up this book, you’re already taking the first step toward becoming a better person where it counts—by training your brain.

Prominent psychotherapist and social worker Amy Morin offers relatable scenarios, then shows tweens the ways they can develop healthy habits, build mental strength, and take action toward becoming their best selves. 13 Things Strong Kids Do gives tweens the tools needed to overcome life’s toughest challenges.

This nonfiction middle grade book is an excellent choice for tween readers in grades 5 to 8, including those living through the stresses of homeschooling, returning to the classroom, and navigating a changed and stressful world.

A Shot in the Arm!: Big Ideas that Changed the World #3 by Don Brown (ISBN-13: 9781419750014 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 04/20/2021, Ages 8-12)

Award-winning author Don Brown explores the history of vaccines from smallpox to COVID-19 in this installment of the Big Ideas That Changed the World series

A Shot in the Arm! explores the history of vaccinations and the struggle to protect people from infectious diseases, from smallpox—perhaps humankind’s greatest affliction to date—to the COVID-19 pandemic. Highlighting deadly diseases such as measles, polio, rabies, cholera, and influenza, Brown tackles the science behind how our immune systems work, the discovery of bacteria, the anti-vaccination movement, and major achievements from Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, who popularized inoculation in England, and from scientists like Louis Pasteur, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, and Edward Jenner, the “father of immunology.” Timely and fascinating, A Shot in the Arm! is a reminder of vaccines’ contributions to public health so far, as well as the millions of lives they can still save.

Big Ideas That Changed the World is a graphic novel series that celebrates the hard-won succession of ideas that ultimately changed the world. Humor, drama, and art unite to tell the story of events, discoveries, and ingenuity over time that led humans to come up with a big idea and then make it come true.

Ways to Grow Love by Renée Watson, Nina Mata (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781547600588 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 04/27/2021 Series: A Ryan Hart Story, Ages 7-10)

Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Author Award winner Renée Watson continues her charming young middle grade series starring Ryan Hart, a girl who is pure spirit and sunshine.

Ryan Hart and her family are back in another installment of stories about a Black girl finding her way and her voice as she grows through change and challenges. In this book, Ryan finds herself waiting on lots of things — like for her new sister to be born healthy, for her new recipes to turn out right, for that summer camp trip to go better than she fears! And of course Ryan is facing these new challenges and new experiences in her classic style — with a bright outlook and plenty of spirit!

Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre by Alverne Ball, Stacey Robinson (Illustrator), Reynaldo Anderson (Contribution by), Colette Yellow Robe (Contribution by) (ISBN-13: 9781419755170 Publisher: Abrams ComicArts – Megascope Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 12-18)

One hundred years after the Tulsa Race Massacre, Across the Tracks is a celebration and memorial of Greenwood, Oklahoma

In Across the Tracks: Remembering Greenwood, Black Wall Street, and the Tulsa Race Massacre, author Alverne Ball and illustrator Stacey Robinson have crafted a love letter to Greenwood, Oklahoma. Also known as Black Wall Street, Greenwood was a community whose importance is often overshadowed by the atrocious massacre that took place there in 1921.

Across the Tracks introduces the reader to the businesses and townsfolk who flourished in this unprecedented time of prosperity for Black Americans. We learn about Greenwood and why it is essential to remember the great achievements of the community as well as the tragedy which nearly erased it. However, Ball is careful to recount the eventual recovery of Greenwood. With additional supplementary materials including a detailed preface, timeline, and historical essay, Across the Tracks offers a thorough examination of the rise, fall, and rebirth of Black Wall Street.

Ember of Night by Molly E. Lee (ISBN-13: 9781649370310 Publisher: Entangled Publishing, LLC Publication date: 05/04/2021, Ages 15-18)

I am a weed.

Unloved by my abusive, alcoholic dad. Unwanted by my classmates. Unnoticed by everyone else.

But I’d suffer anything to give my kid sister a better life—the minute I turn eighteen, I’m getting us the hell out of here. And some hot stranger telling me I am the key to stopping a war between Heaven and Hell isn’t going to change that.

Let the world crumble and burn, for all I care.

Draven is relentless, though. And very much a liar. Every time his sexy lips are moving, I can see it—in the dip of his head, the grit of his jaw—even if my heart begs me to ignore the signs.

So what does he want?

I need to figure it out fast, because now everyone is gunning for me. And damn if I don’t want to show them what happens when you let weeds thrive in the cracks of the pavement…

We can grow powerful enough to shatter the whole foundation.

Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey by Erin Entrada Kelly (ISBN-13: 9780062970428 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/04/2021 Series: Maybe Marisol #1, Ages 8-12)

Introducing eight-year-old Marisol Rainey—an irresistible new character from Newbery Medalist and New York Times–bestselling Erin Entrada Kelly!

Maybe, Maybe Marisol Rainey is an illustrated novel about summer, friendship, and overcoming fears, told with warm humor and undeniable appeal. Fans of Clementine, The Year of Billy Miller, and Ramona the Pest will be thrilled to meet Marisol.

Marisol Rainey’s mother was born in the Philippines. Marisol’s father works and lives part-time on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. And Marisol, who has a big imagination and likes to name inanimate objects, has a tree in her backyard she calls Peppina . . . but she’s way too scared to climb it. This all makes Marisol the only girl in her small Louisiana town with a mother who was born elsewhere and a father who lives elsewhere (most of the time)—the only girl who’s fearful of adventure and fun.

Will Marisol be able to salvage her summer and have fun with Jada, her best friend? Maybe. Will Marisol figure out how to get annoying Evie Smythe to leave her alone? Maybe. Will Marisol ever get to spend enough real time with her father? Maybe. Will Marisol find the courage to climb Peppina? Maybe.  

Told in short chapters with illustrations by the author on nearly every page, Maybe, Maybe Marisol Rainey is a must-have for early elementary grade readers. Erin Entrada Kelly celebrates the small but mighty Marisol, the joys of friendship, and the triumph of overcoming your fears in this stunning new novel for readers of Kevin Henkes, Meg Medina, Andrew Clements, Sara Pennypacker,  and Kate DiCamillo. 

Features black-and-white artwork throughout by Erin Entrada Kelly.

Summer Lifeguards by Elizabeth Doyle Carey, Judit Mallol (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781728221229 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 05/04/2021 Series: Summer Lifeguards #1, Ages 8-12)

Perfect summer reading for every middle schooler—pick up the first in the Summer Lifeguards series featuring four best friends and wholesome beach fun.

It’s been a busy summer on Cape Cod for four best friends, Jenna, Selena, Piper, and Ziggy. They can’t wait to become summer lifeguards like the teens they see patrolling the beaches. But will the girls be able to provide the lifeguards the help they need when a hurricane threatens to strike?

As the storm approaches Cape Cod, the friends face several challenges. Jenna was going to compete in the regional swim meet, but will it still take place? Selena tries a self-beauty treatment with unflattering results. Ziggy’s mom will not take the hurricane seriously and refuses to evacuate. And Pippa finds herself with an unexpected visitor.

Summer Lifeguards: Jenna Tests the Waters by Elizabeth Doyle Carey, Judit Mallol (Illustrator) (ISBN-13: 9781728221250 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 05/04/2021 Series: Summer Lifeguards Series #2, Ages 8-12)

The Babysitter’s Club meets Sunny Side Up—the girls are back to take on the challenge of summer lifeguard tryouts in the perfect summer read featuring female friendship and overcoming the odds!

Jenna’s been a star on her swim team, but lately she feels a lot of pressure to be even better. She’s convinced it’s time to look for something new, so Jenna convinces her friends Piper, Selena, and Ziggy to try out for spots as summer lifeguards.

There’s no guarantee they’ll get picked for the team. The competition includes the rich and gorgeous Samantha Frankel, handsome but mysterious Hayden, and the coach’s daredevil son Luke. Will the girls all make the cut? Or will some be left behind?

Long Lost by Jacqueline West (ISBN-13: 9780062691750 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/11/2021, Ages 8-12)

Once there were two sisters who did everything together. But only one of them disappeared.

New York Times–bestselling author Jacqueline West’s Long Lost is an atmospheric, eerie mystery brimming with suspense. Fans of Katherine Arden’s Small Spaces and Victoria Schwab’s City of Ghosts series will lose themselves in this mesmerizing and century-spanning tale.

Eleven-year-old Fiona has just read a book that doesn’t exist.

When Fiona’s family moves to a new town to be closer to her older sister’s figure skating club—and far from Fiona’s close-knit group of friends—nobody seems to notice Fiona’s unhappiness. Alone and out of place, Fiona ventures to the town’s library, a rambling mansion donated by a long-dead heiress. And there she finds a gripping mystery novel about a small town, family secrets, and a tragic disappearance.

Soon Fiona begins to notice strange similarities that blur the lines between the novel and her new town. With a little help from a few odd Lost Lake locals, Fiona uncovers the book’s strange history. Lost Lake is a town of restless spirits, and Fiona will learn that both help and danger come from unexpected places—maybe even from the sister she thinks doesn’t care about her anymore.

New York Times–bestselling and acclaimed author Jacqueline West weaves a heart-pounding, intense, and imaginative mystery that builds anticipation on every page, while centering on the strong and often tumultuous bond between sisters. Laced with suspense, Long Lost will fascinate readers of Trenton Lee Stewart’s The Secret Keepers and fans of ghost stories. 

Hardears by Matthew Clarke (Created by), Nigel Lynch (Created by), Cathy Thomas (Afterword) (ISBN-13: 9781419751929 Publisher: Abrams ComicArts – Megascope Publication date: 05/11/2021)

Barbadian folklore meets superheroes in this Afro-Caribbean fantasy adventure story

Hardears is an Afro-Caribbean fantasy-adventure graphic novel by Matthew Clarke and Nigel Lynch. The story takes place in an alternative world on Jouvert Island; a magical analog of the island of Barbados and begins when a superstorm of unprecedented strength obliterates the island, leaving it totally defenseless.


As the island reels from the devastation, Mr. Harding, the head of the Merchant Guild, charges in and promises to rebuild the economy of the island by creating jobs in his giant corporation. However, it’s soon discovered that Harding is a parasite and is capturing people from the island and using their life essence or vibes to feed his factories.


Bolo, a local hero, saves his love Zahrah from Hardin and cronies but the lovers are then framed as rebels against the state. The state has been compromised by the factories and the workers who know the truth about Harding must go into hiding. If Bolo, Zahrah, and their allies don’t take down Harding and the corrupt government, all will be lost. Together, they must find the strength of their island and ancestors to fight the evil forces that have taken over their homeland.

Jelly by Clare Rees (ISBN-13: 9781419745560 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 05/18/2021, Ages 12-18)

A survival story unlike anything you’ve ever read—perfect for fans of Patrick Ness and Rory Power

The biggest problem with being trapped on a jellyfish isn’t what you’d expect. You get over the fear of death (because you start looking forward to it) and the smell of fish (because it quickly becomes your breakfast, lunch, and dinner). Boredom is an issue, sure, but it’s not the main one; the biggest problem is not being able to get away from everyone.


Martha is stuck on the back of the jellyfish and has been for a long time. She and everyone else living there don’t know how exactly they got there or how long they’ve been there or where they’re going—they just remember that something traumatic happened. And they can’t escape.
But now, the crew has finally had enough. They’re going to escape the jellyfish—or die trying. (Which probably means dying.) Funny, strange, and completely original, Jelly is an unforgettable young adult debut.

Made in Korea by Sarah Suk (ISBN-13: 9781534474376 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers Publication date: 05/18/2021, Ages 12-18)

Frankly in Love meets Shark Tank in this feel-good romantic comedy about two entrepreneurial Korean American teens who butt heads—and maybe fall in love—while running competing Korean beauty businesses at their high school.

There’s nothing Valerie Kwon loves more than making a good sale. Together with her cousin Charlie, they run V&C K-BEAUTY, their school’s most successful student-run enterprise. With each sale, Valerie gets closer to taking her beloved and adventurous halmeoni to her dream city, Paris.

Enter the new kid in class, Wes Jung, who is determined to pursue music after graduation despite his parents’ major disapproval. When his classmates clamor to buy the K-pop branded beauty products his mom gave him to “make new friends,” he sees an opportunity—one that may be the key to help him pay for the music school tuition he knows his parents won’t cover…

What he doesn’t realize, though, is that he is now V&C K-BEAUTY’s biggest competitor.

Stakes are high as Valerie and Wes try to outsell each other, make the most money, and take the throne for the best business in school—all while trying to resist the undeniable spark that’s crackling between them. From hiring spies to all-or-nothing bets, the competition is much more than either of them bargained for.

But one thing is clear: only one Korean business can come out on top.

Saint Ivy: Kind at All Costs by Laurie Morrison (ISBN-13: 9781419741258 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 05/18/2021, Ages 10-14)

A thoughtful middle-grade novel about caring for others and for yourself––and what it truly means to be kind and vulnerable

Thirteen-year-old Ivy Campbell has always been a good kid: She supports her soccer-star brother, bakes with her nana, and puts her friends’ needs before her own. So of course, Ivy is 100 percent supportive when her mom decides to be a gestational surrogate, carrying and giving birth to her friends’ baby. But when Ivy finds out the surrogacy treatment worked and her mom is pregnant—and has been for weeks—she’s shocked that she’s jealous and worried about what others will think. And most of all, she’s ashamed that she isn’t reacting to this news in the right way. The Ivy way. Ivy is determined to prove to herself that she’s just as unselfish as she’s always believed, and she gets the chance to do that when she receives an anonymous email from someone who needs her help. But the more Ivy dives into helping this anonymous person, the further she gets from the people she loves—and from the person who she wants to be.

On the Hook by Francisco X. Stork (ISBN-13: 9781338692150 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 05/18/2021, Ages 12-18)

“You know I’m coming. You’re dead already.”

Hector has always minded his own business, working hard to make his way to a better life someday. He’s the chess team champion, helps the family with his job at the grocery, and teaches his little sister to shoot hoops overhand.

Until Joey singles him out. Joey, whose older brother, Chavo, is head of the Discípulos gang, tells Hector that he’s going to kill him: maybe not today, or tomorrow, but someday. And Hector, frozen with fear, does nothing. From that day forward, Hector’s death is hanging over his head every time he leaves the house. He tries to fade into the shadows — to drop off Joey’s radar — to become no one.

But when a fight between Chavo and Hector’s brother Fili escalates, Hector is left with no choice but to take a stand.

The violent confrontation will take Hector places he never expected, including a reform school where he has to live side-by-side with his enemy, Joey. It’s up to Hector to choose whether he’s going to lose himself to revenge or get back to the hard work of living.

The Ship of Stolen Words by Fran Wilde (ISBN-13: 9781419749506 Publisher: Amulet Books Publication date: 06/01/2021, Ages 8-12)

A group of goblins steal a boy’s ability to apologize in this lively middle-grade fantasy from Nebula Award-winning author Fran Wilde

No matter how much trouble Sam gets in, he knows that he can always rely on his magic word, “sorry,” to get him out of a pinch. Teasing his little sister too much? Sorry! Hurt someone’s feelings in class? Sorry! Forgot to do his chores? So sorry! But when goblins come and steal his “sorry,” he can’t apologize for anything anymore. To get his “sorry” back and stop the goblins from stealing anyone else’s words, Sam will have to enter the goblins’ world and try and find the depository of stolen words.
There, he meets Tolver, a young goblin who’s always dreamed of adventure. Tolver longs to use the goblin technology—which can turn words into fuel to power ships—to set off and explore, but his grandma warns him that the goblin prospectors will only bring trouble.
Together, Tolver and Sam will have to outsmart the cruel prospectors and save the day before Sam’s parents ground him forever!

Violet Ghosts by Leah Thomas (ISBN-13: 9781547604630 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 06/08/2021, Ages 14-17)

From William C. Morris and Edgar Award finalist Leah Thomas comes an ethereal, thought-provoking YA tale about a teen who can see ghosts . . . and helps them avenge their deaths.

Dani’s best friend, Sarah, is a ghost. But maybe that’s normal when you’ve spent your childhood running from an abusive parent.

Dani and Sarah might be more than friends, though Dani dares not say so. Dani is afraid that if he tells Sarah he’s trans, she won’t bother haunting him anymore. Sarah’s got good reason to distrust boys, having been strangled by one.

After Sarah and Dani come across another ghost haunted by her own brutal murder, they set out to bring peace and safety to spirits like her. But when an old rival reenters Dani’s life, their unexpected friendship gives Dani a strange new feeling of belonging. As Dani starts to find his place in the living world, he’ll need to let go of his ghosts.

Equal parts chilling, raw, and emotionally resonant, acclaimed author Leah Thomas’s ghost story for the #MeToo era is about reclaiming trauma and finding peace among true friends.

We Can’t Keep Meeting Like This by Rachel Lynn Solomon (ISBN-13: 9781534440272 Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers Publication date: 06/08/2021, Ages 12-18)

A wedding harpist disillusioned with love and a hopeless romantic cater-waiter flirt and fight their way through a summer of weddings in this effervescent romantic comedy from the acclaimed author of Today Tonight Tomorrow.

Quinn Berkowitz and Tarek Mansour’s families have been in business together for years: Quinn’s parents are wedding planners, and Tarek’s own a catering company. At the end of last summer, Quinn confessed her crush on him in the form of a rambling email—and then he left for college without a response.

Quinn has been dreading seeing him again almost as much as she dreads another summer playing the harp for her parents’ weddings. When he shows up at the first wedding of the summer, looking cuter than ever after a year apart, they clash immediately. Tarek’s always loved the grand gestures in weddings—the flashier, the better—while Quinn can’t see them as anything but fake. Even as they can’t seem to have one civil conversation, Quinn’s thrown together with Tarek wedding after wedding, from performing a daring cake rescue to filling in for a missing bridesmaid and groomsman.

Quinn can’t deny her feelings for him are still there, especially after she learns the truth about his silence, opens up about her own fears, and begins learning the art of harp-making from an enigmatic teacher.

Maybe love isn’t the enemy after all—and maybe allowing herself to fall is the most honest thing Quinn’s ever done.

The Box in the Woods by Maureen Johnson (ISBN-13: 9780063032606 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 06/15/2021 Series: Truly Devious Series #4, Ages 14-17)

After solving the case of Truly Devious, Stevie Bell investigates her first mystery outside of Ellingham Academy in this spine-chilling and hilarious stand-alone mystery from New York Times bestselling author Maureen Johnson.

Amateur sleuth Stevie Bell needs a good murder. After catching a killer at her high school, she’s back at home for a normal (that means boring) summer.

But then she gets a message from the owner of Sunny Pines, formerly known as Camp Wonder Falls—the site of the notorious unsolved case, the Box in the Woods Murders. Back in 1978, four camp counselors were killed in the woods outside of the town of Barlow Corners, their bodies left in a gruesome display. The new owner offers Stevie an invitation: Come to the camp and help him work on a true crime podcast about the case.

Stevie agrees, as long as she can bring along her friends from Ellingham Academy. Nothing sounds better than a summer spent together, investigating old murders.

But something evil still lurks in Barlow Corners. When Stevie opens the lid on this long-dormant case, she gets much more than she bargained for. The Box in the Woods will make room for more victims. This time, Stevie may not make it out alive.

Chunky by Yehudi Mercado (ISBN-13: 9780062972798 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 06/22/2021, Ages 8-12)

In this full-color middle grade graphic memoir for fans of Raina Telgemeier and Jerry Craft, Yehudi Mercado draws inspiration from his childhood struggle with his weight while finding friendship with his imaginary mascot, Chunky, as he navigates growing up in a working class Mexican-Jewish family.

Hudi needs to lose weight, according to his doctors. Concerned about the serious medical issue Hudi had when he was younger, his parents push him to try out for sports. Hudi would rather do anything else, but then he meets Chunky, his imaginary friend and mascot. Together, they decide to give baseball a shot. 

As the only Mexican and Jewish kid in his neighborhood, Hudi has found the cheerleader he never had. Baseball doesn’t go well (unless getting hit by the ball counts), but the two friends have a great time drawing and making jokes. While Hudi’s parents keep trying to find the right sport for Hudi, Chunky encourages him to pursue his true love—comedy.

But when Hudi’s dad loses his job, it gets harder for Hudi to chart his own course, even with Chunky’s guidance. Can Chunky help Hudi stay true to himself or will this friendship strike out?

Breeder by Honni van Rijswijk (ISBN-13: 9781094099804 Publisher: Blackstone Publishing Publication date: 07/13/2021, Ages 12-17)

Will Meadows is a seemingly average fifteen-year-old Westie, who lives and works in Zone F, the run-down outermost ring of the Corporation. In the future state of the Corp, a person’s value comes down to productivity: the right actions win units, the wrong ones lose them. If Will is unlucky and goes into Unit debt, there’s only one place to go: the Rator. But for Zone F Breeders, things are much worse—they’re born into debt and can only accrue units through reproduction.

Every day in Zone F is a struggle, especially for Will who is fighting against time for access to an illegal medical drug, Crystal 8. Under the cover of night, Will travels to the Gray Zone, where life is less regulated and drugs—and people—are exchanged for gold. There, Will meets Rob, a corrupt member of the Corporation running a Breeder smuggling operation. Will also meets Alex, another teen whom he quickly recognizes as a Breeder in disguise.

Suddenly, Will has an illicit job and money, access to Crystal, and a real friend. As the pair grows closer, Alex shares her secret: she is part of the Response, an uprising to overthrow the Corporation. Caught up in the new friendship, Will and Alex become careless as the two covertly travel into Zone B for a day of adventure. Nothing goes as planned and Will’s greatest fear is realized. Will his true identity be revealed?

Creatures of the Night by Grace Collins (ISBN-13: 9781989365496 Publisher: Wattpad Books Publication date: 07/13/2021, Ages 14-17)

Night is coming, and so are they. 

Milena’s twentieth birthday, the day she would join the ranks of her village’s hunters, should have been the most exciting day of her life. Being a hunter meant she would be able to help protect her village from the murderous wolves who take human form—the creatures of the night. But a chance encounter with Elias, the enigmatic leader of the creatures, leaves her questioning everything she has ever believed to be true. 

Up until now, Elias has managed to protect the creatures of the night and keep the secrets of his past well hidden. Now, as tensions between the groups grow, Elias is forced to make hard decisions: ones that will cost lives. Nobody is safe, especially Milena, the person he is inexplicably drawn to even though it could destroy them both.

Equal parts suspense, mystery, and romance, Creatures of the Night captures the struggle between learning to trust your instincts and each other.

Swallow by Sam Schill (ISBN-13: 9781989365342 Publisher: Wattpad Books Publication date: 07/27/2021, Ages 14-17)

Revenge is a dish best served cold.

The students at Roanoke High School have created a soundtrack that runs constantly in Mildred Waco’s mind . . .

Change your hair, Mildred. 
Change your face, Mildred. 
Change your body, Mildred. 
Everyone hates you, Mildred.
Are you really going to wear that, Mildred?

The stares, the snickers, the constant teasing—combined with Mildred’s own self-doubt and absentee parents—takes its toll. Stumbling upon the Crossroads Magicks shop, Mildred decides she will no longer simply endure the bullying and skeptically buys a revenge curse.

But when she begins to lose her memory and Roanoke students are found brutally murdered, Mildred realizes that she may have bought more than she bargained for. With time running out, Mildred will have to stop the terrible forces she’s unleashed or lose her soul forever.

How We Fall Apart by Katie Zhao (ISBN-13: 9781547603978 Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Publication date: 08/03/2021, Ages 14-18)

In a YA thriller that is Crazy Rich Asians meets One of Us is Lying, students at an elite prep school are forced to confront their secrets when their ex-best friend turns up dead.

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.

Katie Zhao’s YA debut is an edge-of-your-seat drama set in the pressure-cooker world of academics and image at Sinclair Prep, where the past threatens the future these teens have carefully crafted for themselves. How We Fall Apart is the irresistible, addicting, Asian-American recast of Gossip Girl that we’ve all been waiting for.

Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit by Colby Cedar Smith (ISBN-13: 9781524865450 Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing Publication date: 08/17/2021, Ages 14-18)

This enchanting novel in verse captures one young woman’s struggle for independence, equality, and identity as the daughter of Greek and French immigrants in tumultuous 1930s Detroit.

Call Me Athena: Girl from Detroit is a beautifully written novel in verse loosely based on author Colby Cedar Smith’s paternal grandmother. The story follows Mary as the American-born daughter of Greek and French immigrants living in Detroit in the 1930s, creating a historically accurate portrayal of life as an immigrant during the Great Depression, hunger strikes, and violent riots.

Mary lives in a tiny apartment with her immigrant parents, her brothers, and her twin sister, and she questions why her parents ever came to America. She yearns for true love, to own her own business, and to be an independent, modern American woman—much to the chagrin of her parents, who want her to be a “good Greek girl.”

Mary’s story is peppered with flashbacks to her parents’ childhoods in Greece and northern France; their stories connect with Mary as they address issues of arranged marriage, learning about independence, and yearning to grow beyond one’s own culture. Though Call Me Athena is written from the perspective of three profoundly different narrators, it has a wide-reaching message: It takes courage to fight for tradition and heritage, as well as freedom, love, and equality.

What Lives in the Woods by Lindsay Currie (ISBN-13: 9781728245720 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 09/14/2021, Ages 10-14)

For fans of Small Spaces and the Goosebumps series by R.L Stine comes a chilling ghost story about a girl living in the decrepit and creepy mansion, who discovers something in the woods is after her.

All Ginny Anderson wants from her summer is to sleep in, attend a mystery writing workshop, and spend time with her best friend. But when Ginny’s father—a respected restoration expert in Chicago—surprises the family with a month-long trip to Michigan, everything changes. They aren’t staying in a hotel like most families would. No, they’re staying in a mansion. A twenty-six room, century-old building surrounded by dense forest. Woodmoor Manor.

But unfortunately, the mansion has more problems than a little peeling wallpaper. Locals claim the surrounding woods are inhabited by mutated creatures with glowing eyes. And some say campers routinely disappear in the woods, never to be seen again.

As terrifying as it sounds, Ginny can’t shake the feeling that there’s something darker . . . another story she hasn’t been told. When the creaky floors and shadowy corners of the mansion seem to take on a life of their own, Ginny uncovers the wildest mystery of all: There’s more than one legend roaming Saugatuck, Michigan, and they definitely aren’t after campers.

It’s after her.

Barefoot Dreams of Petra Luna by Alda P. Dobbs (ISBN-13: 9781728234656 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 09/14/2021, Ages 8-12)

It is 1913, and twelve-year-old Petra Luna’s mama has died while the Revolution rages in Mexico. Before her papa is dragged away by soldiers, Petra vows to him that she will care for the family she has left—her abuelita, little sister Amelia, and baby brother Luisito—until they can be reunited. They flee north through the unforgiving desert as their town burns, searching for safe harbor in a world that offers none.

Each night when Petra closes her eyes, she holds her dreams close, especially her long-held desire to learn to read. Abuelita calls these barefoot dreams: “They’re like us barefoot peasants and indios—they’re not meant to go far.” But Petra refuses to listen. Through battlefields and deserts, hunger and fear, Petra will stop at nothing to keep her family safe and lead them to a better life across the U.S. border—a life where her barefoot dreams will become reality.

#FactsMatter: Great Graphic Nonfiction for Students Who Love Information and Real World Stories, by Librarian Alison

Today, as part of our #FactsMatter spotlight on nonfiction, we have a guest post by a librarian in New York City named Alison. She is here today to talk with us about nonfiction presented in graphic novel format.

In elementary school libraries, the nonfiction section is just as popular, if not moreso, than the fiction section. Students love learning new information about the world and sharing those new facts with others. When they have time to browse, they’ll happily rush to the nonfiction shelves to grab books about animals, or space, or sports, or whatever topic seems interesting to them at the moment.

As students get older, I’ve noticed, that love for nonfiction isn’t as obvious in the library anymore. While this is purely anecdotal, I’ve observed that middle and high school students are far less likely to rush to the nonfiction section when looking for their next book to read. Is this because their love of facts and information has waned with age? This seems unlikely. Rather, I think it could be the result of a few different factors. First, I think sometimes librarians focus their nonfiction collection development efforts on books that will support their school’s curriculum needs, rather than books students may want to read for fun. While this is absolutely important, it can mean that students associate the nonfiction section with stuff they have to do for school instead of things they want to read about. Second, nonfiction books can be more challenging for students to read. They can have dense text and specialized vocabulary, and just generally seem more intimidating to students.

So, is there a way for our middle and high school students who have gravitated away from the nonfiction section to rediscover, or discover for the first time, their love of nonfiction? Definitely! And I think one great way to do that is through graphic nonfiction. While there are lots of great narrative nonfiction books and informational texts being written for tween and teens these days, books in graphic format are an accessible and engaging way for students to (re)discover nonfiction. Graphic nonfiction, with its reliance on pictures telling the story as much, if not more, than words, presents facts and information in a way that can be easier for students to grasp, especially visual learners, English language learners, and others who might struggle with more traditional formats of nonfiction.

Many students are already big fans of graphic novels; they love reading stories told in both words and pictures, and so this format is familiar to and beloved by many tweens and teens. These graphic novel lovers may be more interested in and willing to try a nonfiction book if it’s in a format they already enjoy, so this is another way to guide students back to the nonfiction section. Students who love graphic novels set in space, for example, may enjoy graphic nonfiction texts about astronauts, while those who enjoy historical fiction might be excited to pick up Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales series, and students who love realistic fiction could really get into many of the graphic memoirs available.

While graphic texts are an excellent way for tweens and teens to access nonfiction for pleasure reading, they are also a useful teaching tool. Graphic nonfiction not only uses visual storytelling and engaging writing to help students understand complex topics and take in information, but this medium can also be a good way to introduce difficult ideas or topics. Graphic nonfiction texts can help ease students into discussions and lessons on particularly challenging or distressing topics. Additionally, the use of graphic nonfiction in the classroom may serve as encouragement for students to pursue their personal interests in nonfiction as well.

So, where should you begin when it comes to graphic nonfiction? Well, I’ve created a list of some great graphic nonfiction texts full of interesting and engaging content, all of which would make great additions to many middle or high school library collections. (Note: I have chosen not to include some more well known graphic nonfiction, like Persepolis and the March Trilogy, because they are already quite popular, but please know that despite their absence from this list, they are great choices too!) So, here are some wonderful graphic nonfiction texts (all book descriptions are from the publishers):

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (Gr. 7 & Up)-For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated.

Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends in Seoul and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily, and worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.

This nonfiction graphic novel with four starred reviews is an excellent choice for teens and also accelerated tween readers, both for independent reading and units on immigration, memoirs, and the search for identity.

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks (Gr. 5 & Up)-The U.S. may have put the first man on the moon, but it was the Soviet space program that made Valentina Tereshkova the first woman in space. It took years to catch up, but soon NASA’s first female astronauts were racing past milestones of their own. The trail-blazing women of Group 9, NASA’s first mixed gender class, had the challenging task of convincing the powers that be that a woman’s place is in space, but they discovered that NASA had plenty to learn about how to make space travel possible for everyone.

Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s Journey to Justice by Debbie Levy and Whitney Gardner (Gr. 6 & Up)-Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg is a modern feminist icon—a leader in the fight for equal treatment of girls and women in society and the workplace. She blazed trails to the peaks of the male-centric worlds of education and law, where women had rarely risen before.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg has often said that true and lasting change in society and law is accomplished slowly, one step at a time. This is how she has evolved, too. Step by step, the shy little girl became a child who questioned unfairness, who became a student who persisted despite obstacles, who became an advocate who resisted injustice, who became a judge who revered the rule of law, who became…RBG.

Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World by Penelope Bagieu (Gr. 8 & Up)-Throughout history and across the globe, one characteristic connects the daring women of Brazen: their indomitable spirit.

With her characteristic wit and dazzling drawings, celebrated graphic novelist Pénélope Bagieu profiles the lives of these feisty female role models, some world famous, some little known. From Nellie Bly to Mae Jemison or Josephine Baker to Naziq al-Abid, the stories in this comic biography are sure to inspire the next generation of rebel ladies.

Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Jessica Dee Humphreys, Michel Chikwanine, and Claudia Davila (Gr. 5 & Up)-Michel Chikwanine was five years old when he was abducted from his school-yard soccer game in the Democratic Republic of Congo and forced to become a soldier for a brutal rebel militia. Against the odds, Michel managed to escape and find his way back to his family, but he was never the same again. After immigrating to Canada, Michel was encouraged by a teacher to share what happened to him in order to raise awareness about child soldiers around the world, and this book is part of that effort.

Told in the first person and presented in a graphic novel format, the gripping story of Michel’s experience is moving and unsettling. But the humanity he exhibits in the telling, along with Claudia Dávila’s illustrations, which evoke rather than depict the violent elements of the story, makes the book accessible for this age group and, ultimately, reassuring and hopeful. The back matter contains further information, as well as suggestions for ways children can help. This is a perfect resource for engaging youngsters in social studies lessons on global awareness and social justice issues, and would easily spark classroom discussions about conflict, children’s rights and even bullying. Michel’s actions took enormous courage, but he makes clear that he was and still is an ordinary person, no different from his readers. He believes everyone can do something to make the world a better place, and so he shares what his father told him: “If you ever think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in a room with a mosquito.”

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (Gr. 8 & Up)-Gene understands stories—comic book stories, in particular. Big action. Bigger thrills. And the hero always wins.

But Gene doesn’t get sports. As a kid, his friends called him “Stick” and every basketball game he played ended in pain. He lost interest in basketball long ago, but at the high school where he now teaches, it’s all anyone can talk about. The men’s varsity team, the Dragons, is having a phenomenal season that’s been decades in the making. Each victory brings them closer to their ultimate goal: the California State Championships.

Once Gene gets to know these young all-stars, he realizes that their story is just as thrilling as anything he’s seen on a comic book page. He knows he has to follow this epic to its end. What he doesn’t know yet is that this season is not only going to change the Dragons’s lives, but his own life as well.

The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix (Gr. 7 & Up)-Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party is gaining strength and becoming more menacing every day. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor upset by the complacency of the German church toward the suffering around it, forms a breakaway church to speak out against the established political and religious authorities. When the Nazis outlaw the church, he escapes as a fugitive. Struggling to reconcile his faith and the teachings of the Bible with the Nazi Party’s evil agenda, Bonhoeffer decides that Hitler must be stopped by any means possible!

In his signature style of interwoven handwritten text and art, John Hendrix tells the true story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor who makes the ultimate sacrifice in order to help free the German people from oppression during World War II.

The History of the World in Comics by Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu and Adrienne Barman (Gr. 5 & Up)-A paleontologist and a storyteller take two children through the birth of our planet, the beginning of microbes, and through the heydays of protozoans, dinosaurs, and early mammals with unfailing enthusiasm.

The art accurately portrays animal species and prehistoric landscapes, includes maps and infographics, but also adds humorous touches: a google-eyed prehistoric fish looking startled to be walking on land and the children popping out of a tree top to surprise a Brachiosaurus.

The combined expertise of author Jean-Baptiste de Panafieu, a science writer and biologist, and illustrator Adriene Barman, the creator behind Creaturepedia and Plantopedia, makes for a science read you can trust.

Fans of Maris Wicks’s Human Body Theater and Nathan Hale will be pleased.

Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide by Isabel Quintero and Zeke Peña (Gr. 7 & Up)-Graciela Iturbide was born in Mexico City in 1942, the oldest of 13 children. When tragedy struck Iturbide as a young mother, she turned to photography for solace and understanding. From then on Iturbide embarked on a photographic journey that has taken her throughout her native Mexico, from the Sonora Desert to Juchitán to Frida Kahlo’s bathroom, to the United States, India, and beyond. Photographic is a symbolic, poetic, and deeply personal graphic biography of this iconic photographer. Iturbide’s journey will excite readers of all ages as well as budding photographers, who will be inspired by her resolve, talent, and curiosity.

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birute Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks (Gr. 6 & Up)-Jim Ottaviani returns with an action-packed account of the three greatest primatologists of the last century: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. These three ground-breaking researchers were all students of the great Louis Leakey, and each made profound contributions to primatology—and to our own understanding of ourselves.

Tackling Goodall, Fossey, and Galdikas in turn, and covering the highlights of their respective careers, Primates is an accessible, entertaining, and informative look at the field of primatology and at the lives of three of the most remarkable women scientists of the twentieth century. Thanks to the charming and inviting illustrations by Maris Wicks, this is a nonfiction graphic novel with broad appeal.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer and Trans Identities by Mady G and J.R. Zuckerberg (Gr. 9 & Up)-In this quick and easy guide to queer and trans identities, cartoonists Mady G and JR Zuckerberg guide you through the basics of the LGBT+ world! Covering essential topics like sexuality, gender identity, coming out, and navigating relationships, this guide explains the spectrum of human experience through informative comics, interviews, worksheets, and imaginative examples. A great starting point for anyone curious about queer and trans life, and helpful for those already on their own journeys!

(Note: There are several more books in the ‘Quick & Easy Guide’ series that would also be great additions to graphic nonfiction collections: A Quick & Easy Guide to Asexuality, A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent, and A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability)

Smash! Exploring the Mysteries of the Universe with the Large Hadron Collider by Sara Latta and Jeff Weigel (Gr. 7 & Up)-What is the universe made of? At CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research, scientists have searched for answers to this question using the largest machine in the world: the Large Hadron Collider. It speeds up tiny particles, then smashes them together—and the collision gives researchers a look at the building blocks of the universe.

Nick and Sophie, two cousins, are about to visit CERN for a tour of the mysteries of the cosmos. Sophie’s a physics wiz. Nick, not so much. But by the time they’re through, Nick and Sophie will both feel the power of hidden particles, fundamental forces, dark matter, and more. It’s all a blast in this mind-blowing graphic novel!

Strange Fruit Volume 1: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History by Joel Christian Gill (Gr. 8 & Up)-Strange Fruit Volume I is a collection of stories from early African American history that represent the oddity of success in the face of great adversity. Each of the nine illustrated chapters chronicles an uncelebrated African American hero or event. From the adventures of lawman Bass Reeves, to Henry “Box” Brown’s daring escape from slavery.

The Stuff of Life : A Graphic Guide to Genetics and DNA by Mark Schultz, Zander Cannon, and Kevin Cannon (Gr. 10 & Up)-Let’s face it: From adenines to zygotes, from cytokinesis to parthenogenesis, even the basics of genetics can sound utterly alien. So who better than an alien to explain it all? Enter Bloort 183, a scientist from an asexual alien race threatened by disease, who’s been charged with researching the fundamentals of human DNA and evolution and laying it all out in clear, simple language so that even his slow-to-grasp-the-point leader can get it. In the hands of the award-winning writer Mark Schultz, Bloort’s predicament becomes the means of giving even the most science-phobic reader a complete introduction to the history and science of genetics that’s as easy to understand as it is entertaining to read.

Tetris: The Games People Play by Box Brown (Gr. 9 & Up)-It is, perhaps, the perfect video game. Simple yet addictive, Tetris delivers an irresistible, unending puzzle that has players hooked. Play it long enough and you’ll see those brightly colored geometric shapes everywhere. You’ll see them in your dreams.

Alexey Pajitnov had big ideas about games. In 1984, he created Tetris in his spare time while developing software for the Soviet government. Once Tetris emerged from behind the Iron Curtain, it was an instant hit. Nintendo, Atari, Sega—game developers big and small all wanted Tetris. A bidding war was sparked, followed by clandestine trips to Moscow, backroom deals, innumerable miscommunications, and outright theft.

In this graphic novel,New York Times–bestselling author Box Brown untangles this complex history and delves deep into the role games play in art, culture, and commerce. For the first time and in unparalleled detail, Tetris: The Games People Play tells the true story of the world’s most popular video game.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (Gr. 7 & Up)-George Takei has captured hearts and minds worldwide with his captivating stage presence and outspoken commitment to equal rights. But long before he braved new frontiers in Star Trek, he woke up as a four-year-old boy to find his own birth country at war with his father’s — and their entire family forced from their home into an uncertain future.

In 1942, at the order of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, every person of Japanese descent on the west coast was rounded up and shipped to one of ten “relocation centers,” hundreds or thousands of miles from home, where they would be held for years under armed guard.

They Called Us Enemy is Takei’s firsthand account of those years behind barbed wire, the joys and terrors of growing up under legalized racism, his mother’s hard choices, his father’s faith in democracy, and the way those experiences planted the seeds for his astonishing future.

What is American? Who gets to decide? When the world is against you, what can one person do? To answer these questions, George Takei joins co-writers Justin Eisinger & Steven Scott and artist Harmony Becker for the journey of a lifetime.

The Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (Gr. 8 & Up)-In the tradition of two-time Sibert honor winner Don Brown’s critically acclaimed, full-color nonfiction graphic novels The Great American Dust Bowl and Drowned City, The Unwanted is an important, timely, and eye-opening exploration of the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis, exposing the harsh realities of living in, and trying to escape, a war zone.

Starting in 2011, refugees flood out of war-torn Syria in Exodus-like proportions. The surprising flood of victims overwhelms neighboring countries, and chaos follows. Resentment in host nations heightens as disruption and the cost of aid grows. By 2017, many want to turn their backs on the victims. The refugees are the unwanted.

Don Brown depicts moments of both heartbreaking horror and hope in the ongoing Syrian refugee crisis. Shining a light on the stories of the survivors, The Unwanted is a testament to the courage and resilience of the refugees and a call to action for all those who read.

What Does Consent Really Mean? by Pete Wallis, Thalia Wallis, and Joseph Wilkins (Gr. 8 & Up)-While seemingly straightforward, Tia and Bryony hadn’t considered this subject too seriously until it comes up in conversation with their friends and they realize just how important it is.

Following the sexual assault of a classmate, a group of teenage girls find themselves discussing the term consent, what it actually means for them in their current relationships, and how they act and make decisions with peer influence. Joined by their male friends who offer another perspective, this rich graphic novel uncovers the need for more informed conversations with young people around consent and healthy relationships. Accompanying the graphics are sexual health resources for students and teachers, which make this a perfect tool for broaching the subject with teens.

I hope this list has given you some ideas for adding graphic nonfiction to your collection. If you have a favorite graphic nonfiction text that wasn’t included, please share in the comments!

Meet Our Guest Blogger

Alison is the Middle and Upper School Librarian at an independent school in New York City. She has worked in school libraries for 8 years, with students from ages 3-18. She loves reading and learning, and helping students find the perfect book. When she’s not in the library, she enjoys baking, traveling, and spending time with her two cats, Molly and Minerva. You can find more of Alison’s musings about books and libraries on her website msginthelibrary.com, on Twitter @msginthelibrary, or on Instagram @msginthelibrary.

Friday Finds: September 6, 2019

This Week at TLT

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Book Review: Have a Little Faith in Me by Sonia Hartl

The Labor of Librarianship, a Reflection for Labor Day

Your Library and Beyond: Building Positive Relationships with Creative Teens in The Community a guest post by author Rayne Lacko

Sunday Reflections: Everything I Learned About Advocating for My Dyslexic Child I Learned by Being a Teen Librarian

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Amanda’s favorites of 2018

Yes, it’s list time. What follows are my favorite 2018 books that I reviewed and excerpts of my reviews. I pretty much exclusively read contemporary fiction, which my list reflects. These are the YA books that most stuck with me this year.  Even though I’m a voracious reader, I’m sure I missed a lot of great titles this year. I always enjoy reading the many lists that crop up this time of the year, but I also always want more variety and to hear from more people. So here’s my list—will you share yours with us too? Leave us a comment or hit me up on Twitter where I’m @CiteSomething. 

 

 

you'll miss meYou’ll Miss Me When I’m Gone by Rachel Lynn Solomon (ISBN-13: 9781481497732 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 01/02/2018)

I burned through this book, riveted by the girls’ relationship, which is constantly in flux. The alternate narration really lets us get in the heads of both girls and see them both really struggle with all the new things that they are dealing with. Let’s not forget that in the middle of all this there is their mother, whose symptoms are getting rapidly worse. They have to witness her decline, worry about what her future holds, and that’s a constant very real reminder for everyone of what will be ahead of Adina at some point.

I loved the large role religion plays in this family’s life. They are Jewish and often speak Hebrew. Their mother grew up in Tel Aviv and their father is American. Tovah is quite religious and Adina is not. Both speak and think about their religion and culture a lot—whether that’s because they are embracing it or rebelling against it.

This book is heartbreaking in all the best ways. The girls are not always likable (and we all know I hate that word as a judgment, right? That it’s OKAY to be unlikable, because being humans and containing multitudes means we’re not always the best version of ourselves?), they make hurtful choices, they keep things to themselves when what they really need is to lean on each other. This is a complex look at identity, futures, faith, family, and what it means to truly live your life. A brilliant and provocative debut. I look forward to more from Solomon. (Full review here.)

 

 

is this guyIs This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown (ISBN-13: 9781626723160 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 02/06/2018)

Brown takes us back to Kaufman’s youth, showing his interest in Mighty Mouse, Elvis, and wrestling. Kaufman loved to imitate his heroes and always rooted for the bad guy. We see how he became a party entertainer at a young age, his interest in drumming, and his growing interest in subverting expectations and screwing with reality. Kaufman believed in being in character offstage as well, a move that helped him confuse the heck out of people who eventually could never tell if he was putting on an act or being serious. Much of the story is focused on Kaufman’s wrestling career, with Brown taking us through Kaufman arch-nemesis Jerry Lawler’s backstory, too. Throughout it all, we see Kaufman as not just a larger-than-life character who wrestled women and befuddled viewers, but as a sensitive guy into yoga and transcendental meditation. Kaufman, who blurred reality and enjoyed blowing people’s minds, loved playing the negative, hated characters. It was just more interesting to him.

Fans of the absurd will enjoy this book, whether they’ve heard of Kaufman or not. For an older audience, for anyone who looks at this and can immediately picture Kaufman lip-syncing to the Mighty Mouse theme, or Tony Clifton, or Latka Gravis, this look at Kaufman will be a real treat. (Full review here.)

 

 

elenaThe Apocalypse of Elena Mendoza by Shaun David Hutchinson (ISBN-13: 9781481498548 Publisher: Simon Pulse Publication date: 02/06/2018)

After Elena confirms she really can heal people (unsurprisingly, it’s a little hard for her to just accept what happened), things grow far more complicated than she could have anticipated. The voices (coming from such places as a girl on a tampon box, a My Little Pony, a skeleton, and more) tell her she needs to heal as many people as possible. And on the surface, that seems like a good idea. But for every healing she does, people are raptured—and not just in some 1:1 ration; literally hundreds of people could go missing for each healing. Suddenly, Elena has BIG questions to grapple with. Can she help someone right in front of her knowing others will disappear to an unknown place? Is she being used? Do things happen for a reason or do they just happen? Does nothing matter? Does anything matter? Does EVERYTHING matter? How are things connected? Are people even worth saving (that question will sound familiar to fans of Hutchinson)? Does healing people fundamentally change them? Why should you decide who or what matters? It’s heavy philosophical stuff, which readers of Hutchinson will have come to expect.

As always, Hutchinson populates his story with a diverse group of characters. Elena is Cuban American and bisexual. Her best friend, Fadil, is Mulim and possibly aromatic and/or asexual (he’s still figuring it out). The big picture themes include mental health/suicidal ideation (and actual suicide), bullying, identity, supportive relationships, and how your choices change you and the world around you. Hutchinson superfans will be thrilled to see cameos of characters from his previous books. This look at making impossible choices and handling moral conflict is already one of my favorites for 2018 (and, as of writing this, I’m still back here in 2017). Riveting, thoughtful, weird, brilliant, provocative, and heavy—just what I have come to expect from Hutchinson. (Full review here.)

 

 

poet XThe Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo (ISBN-13: 9780062662804 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/06/2018)

15-year-old Dominican American Xiomara is used to being judged, harassed, and viewed only as a body with curves, not just from the male gaze, but even from her own mother.She’s close to exactly two people in life, her twin brother, whom she lovingly just calls Twin, and their best friend, Caridad. They are the only ones who really know anything about her, and even they don’t get to know it all. Xiomara’s mother goes to Mass daily and is extremely disappointed in Xiomara’s disinterest in church, confirmation classes, and religion. She’s very strict,but Xiomara has found ways around her rules to try to live the life she wants. She joins a poetry club at school while pretending to be at confirmation classes. She also begins seeing Trinidadian Aman, a kind, compassionate, music-loving classmate who is always ready to hear one of her poems. Her mother makes it clear that her sexuality is something to be repressed, to be ashamed of, to be denied, but Xiomara is having all of these first feelings for Aman, and not even the scolding voice of her mother in her head can override her beginning to make her own decisions and define her body and her sexuality on her own terms. But she has to keep all of this secret from her mother—just like Twin has to keep his relationship with a boy a secret. Everything begins to unravel when Xiomara’s mother sees her kissing Aman, and then further escalates when she finds Xiomara’s poetry notebook. Learning how to trust and how listen to her own voice—to find power not just in words but in the power of her words—is a rough road for Xiomara, but it’s also one filled with wonder, joy, and revelations.Powered by Xiomara’s strong but vulnerable voice, this intense, poignant, and extraordinary novel is a must for all collections. (Full review here.)

 

 

blood water paintBlood Water Paint by Joy McCullough (ISBN-13: 9780735232112 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 03/06/2018)

17-year-old Artemisia understands the way the world works: women are a beauty for consumption by men. There are many expectations for women and few freedoms. She understands that girls are prey, that they are seen as things and possessions. Artemisia, ostensibly an apprentice to her painter father, though clearly far more skilled than he, begins to paint biblical women she knows intimately from her mother’s stories, knowing a man could never capture the truth of the story the way a woman could. Her mother’s stories made clear the heavy burden of the inescapable male gaze, but they also made clear Artemisia’s (and all women’s) right to be outraged, to act, to push back, to speak up. These woman from her mother’s stories, Judith and Susanna, come to be her strength and solace when Artemisia is raped by Agostina Tassi, her painting tutor. Artemisia tells her father of the rape and they take Tino to trial. But, of course, it is not Tino on trial, but Artemisia’s virtue. 

Both the stories from Artemisia’s mother and Artemisia’s own story ask the readers to bear witness, to see the truth, to hear the voices, to understand the strength in the stories. The stories are the weapons, the armor, the refuge, and the map. This intensely passionate and powerful exploration of women’s lives, stories, truths, and power is a masterpiece. (Full review here.)

 

 

after the shotAfter the Shot Drops by Randy Ribay (ISBN-13: 9781328702272 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 03/06/2018)

Bunny and Nasir repeatedly approach each other to try to mend their friendship, but each time, Nasir feels like he’s betraying Wallace, that Bunny has plenty of people in his corner, and plenty of resources and opportunities, but Wallace has nothing and no one. Wallace eventually puts Nasir—and Bunny—in an impossible situation, one that will test everyone’s loyalty, and the already high stakes of this story really ramp up. Readers will race through the final chaptersWe’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss to see what happens to all three of these complicated and conflicted characters.

 

Told through an incredibly effective alternation narration, readers get to see deep inside the minds of both Bunny and Nasir. who show that the situation is much more complicated than just being about two best friends driven apart by Bunny’s choice to change schools. Gripping, suspenseful, and complex, this story of basketball, friendship, courage, desperation, and choices will appeal to a wide audience. A must-have for all collections.  (Full review here.)

 

 

 

fly awayWe’ll Fly Away by Bryan Bliss (ISBN-13: 9780062494276 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 05/08/2018)

As I read, as I watched events unfold, I kept thinking, “NO, NO, NO, NO,” even though I knew something terrible had to happen to get Luke on death row. It all feels so hopeless.

 

In Luke’s letters from death row, we see weird glimpses of hope that we could never see in the main narrative. I say “weird” because the kid is on death row. His letters are full of pain and anger, but also resiliency, and he works through so much in his letters to Toby.His letters give us a real insight into his mind during this time. It is, I would guess, virtually impossible for almost all of us to really imagine what it would be like to be on death row. To be waiting. To watch people you have come to know put to death. I think it can be easy for people to look at people in prison, on death row, and forget their humanity. It can be easy to write people off, to expect a punishment, to not see them as humans, to not understand what led them there, to not think about redemption or the worth of a life or what the death penalty really means. Bliss makes you think about all those things. He makes the reader understand that people are not just defined by one thing, but have entire lives and stories that led them to the act or acts that landed them in prison. He asks readers to see their complex lives and care about them. The standout characters, including the nun who routinely visits Luke in prison, are deeply affecting and beg readers to really pay attention to their lives and their choices. Though devastatingly sad, this is also a beautiful look at friendship between two boys—something we don’t always see much of in YA. This emotional, powerful, and unflinching look at friendship, loyalty, and the justice system is an absolute must for all collections. Not an easy read, but an important one. (Full review here.)

 

 

girl made ofGirl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake (ISBN-13: 9781328778239 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 05/15/2018)

 

When Hannah says that Owen raped her at a party they all were at, Mara is devastated. She knows her brother would never do that. But she also knows Hannah would never lie about that. She turns to their small group of friends, including both Hannah and Owen, as she tries to process what happened. Mara has her own reasons for fiercely thinking that “believe girls and women” is a good policy (beyond it just being a good policy). She’s held on to a secret for years, a secret that ruined her relationship with Charlie. Mara and Owen’s parents believe Owen when he says he didn’t rape Hannah. They urge Mara to understand the need to be united on this, to not talk to anyone about it, to make sure they all have the story straight. But Mara is sick of not talking about things. She stands by Hannah, especially when Hannah comes back to school and is repeatedly greeted with, “Hey, slut, welcome back.” Mara, Charlie, and Hannah all have truths to tell. They rely on each other, and the support of girls (particularly in their feminist group at school, Empower) to find the strength to not be silenced. 

 

This masterpiece is gutting. It’s not just the characters, the dialogue, and the writing are all wonderful—they are—but that the story is so real. So true. So common. Maybe not the specifics, but the general story. This is in incredibly important read about the aftermath of a sexual assault, about consent, rape culture, family, friendship, and feminism. A powerful, heartbreaking, but ultimately uplifting read. (Full review here.)

 

 

 

deadendiaDeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test by Hamish Steele (ISBN-13: 9781910620472 Publisher: Nobrow Ltd. Publication date: 08/07/2018)

 

Really, this book had me at trans protagonist, graphic novel, talking dog, girl with anxiety disorder, and hell portal. It’s like all my favorite things together in one place. If only they had also obsessively eaten donuts and the dog was a dachshund and not a pug! Barney, who is trans, has recently left home, after it was made clear that he wasn’t welcome there. His friend Norma Khan hooks him up with a job as a janitor at the Pollywood amusement park where she works as a guide at a haunted house (a job she likes because there is a script). It’s the least popular attraction there, in the area referred to as Scare Square. Barney figures it will be a good place to stay while he’s homeless, and it maybe would have been, if it hadn’t turned out that the haunted house was also a portal to a bunch of demons. Before long, Barney, Norma, and Barney’s dog, Pugsley, are constantly battling demons through shifting timelines and dimensions. The planes are described as a “big, interdimensional, supernatural cake,” and it’s hard to know who is mostly harmless, who may be helpful, and who eventually becomes bad in a another timeline. When a demon possesses Pugsley early on, he retains the ability to speak, even after they manage to exorcise the demon. Norma has known about the demons for ages, but for Barney, this is all so new and odd at an especially new and odd time in his life.

 

Complicated emotions, strong friendship, demons, and plenty of LGBTQIA+ representation. All that and bright, bold illustrations AND great writing? Total win. Sweet, funny, and enjoyably, delightfully weird. (Full review here.)

 

 

dariusDarius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram (ISBN-13: 9780525552963 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 08/28/2018)

Though Darius is often awkward and monosyllabic, we get to know him much better when he is in Iran. Darius gets to know himself much better during this time. He becomes friends with Sohrab, a charismatic neighbor boy who draws Darius out of his shell, inviting him to play soccer and helping guide him through life in Yazd. Fairly quickly, Darius feels such closeness with Sohrab, feeling like they really understand each other. Sohrab is easy and comfortable with Darius, so open and affectionate. Though it is never discussed, it is easy to read their relationship as something more than friends, or something that could potentially be more than friends. Though their time together is short, Sohrab and his friendship appear to be life changing for Darius, showing him that he can connect with other people and that there is more to him than just a bullied kid who is always the object of jokes and cruelty.

 

The book has a lot of other things going for it. Darius’s depression is handled well. It’s noted over and over that he has been encouraged to not feel embarrassed or ashamed for having depression, that it’s just the way his brain chemicals work. He talks about being medicated for years, about having tried various medications, about side effects, like weight gain, and we routinely see him take his medication. His mother talks to him about the fact that her parents will have a different, less understanding attitude toward depression, which does come up once they are in Iran. It is refreshing to see mental illness depicted in such a matter of fact manner—it’s just one part of Darius. Darius also helps guide readers through Persian culture by explaining cultural ideas, tradition, and Farsi words as the story unfolds. Khorram manages to make this feel like part of the natural flow of the narrative. This quiet story will resonate with readers who feel they don’t fit in, for whatever reason, and can appreciate the profoundness of finally feeling like you can connect with someone. A heartfelt, complicated, and thoughtful look at identity, family, and unexpected connections set in a place, and within a culture, we rarely see in YA. A great addition for all collections. (Full review here.)

 

 

dream countryDream Country by Shannon Gibney (ISBN-13: 9780735231672 Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group Publication date: 09/11/2018)

The stories are loosely tied together (in the sense that we’re following the line of one family and returning to the same place over and over), but read like short stories, complete on their own. It feels especially profound, then, when we reach Angel’s portion of the narrative and understand that it is she who has been telling all of these stories as a way to help make sense of her lineage, history, and ancestors. Through her revelations about her writing, readers see the choices she made in telling these stories, her search for explaining people and their actions, her desire for wholeness, for neat intertwining, for being able to know what these experiences were like. The title, Dream Country, takes on new significance through Angel’s eyes, and with Angel’s own story. This powerful and well-written story examines deep human emotions, the desire and fight for freedom, power, and immigrant experiences. Perhaps shamefully, I managed to make it to 40 without knowing much of anything at all about Liberia, but this book has changed that. Gibney’s complex look at one family, told through a wide scope, is moving and unlike anything I have ever read before in YA. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. Don’t miss it. (Full review here.)

 

 

 

 

the unwantedThe Unwanted: Stories of the Syrian Refugees by Don Brown (ISBN-13: 9781328810151 Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publication date: 09/18/2018)

Brown provides a very brief overview of the Arab Spring, starting this story with teenage boys writing graffiti (“Down with the regime”) on a wall in Dara’a, in southern Syria, then the arrest and torture of those boys, which sparks a protest for their freedom. Of course, this is just one of many inciting incidents, as the anger is far deeper and more widespread, with Syrians unhappy with Assad’s rule and the corrupt government. The government retaliates against the protesters, with the growth of the protest and violence leading to civil war. Syrians flee to Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey, living in tent cities, with friends and family, or in communities in the hills. Violence intensifies when jihadists, including ISIS, join the fight. Brown followers various refugees’ journeys as they escape any way they can. We see people fleeing on foot, on boats, with smugglers, some of them successfully escaping, but many thousands and thousands dying in the process.

 

It was no surprise to me that Brown so adeptly captures the emotions and weight of this experience. Though, as noted, this book is slight, it is a thorough and affecting look at the Syrian refugee crisis, particularly for younger readers who may just be looking for a quick and basic understanding of what has been going on. The full-color illustrations are dynamic and powerful, whether showing crowded boats, near-empty deserts, or the anguish on the refugees’ faces. This somber, poignant, and deeply sympathetic look at Syrian refugees is as moving as it is informative. A solid addition for all collections. (Full review here.)

 

 

hearts unHearts Unbroken by Cynthia Leitich Smith (ISBN-13: 9780763681142 Publisher: Candlewick Press Publication date: 10/09/2018)

While Louise never wavers in her quest to educate others, she has a lot of room to grow as a friend. Her alleged best friend, Shelby, is largely absent in the book, usually busy working and not really understood well by Louise, who has trouble seeing beyond herself sometimes. She has a lot to learn about friendships, dating, and understanding others. But these flaws make her real, and interesting. Readers see her grow and change as she makes more connections with people in her new town and stands up for what she believes in and what she knows is right. Mvskoke words are sprinkled throughout the next, with a glossary appended as well as an important author’s note. This book also accomplished the near-impossible: it made me miss high school for two seconds, reminding me of my love for writing for the school newspaper and the frustrations and community that can come with that. This is a nice mix of romance, routine high school drama, and more serious topics like racism, bullying, and becoming more socially aware. Sure to inspire interesting classroom discussions, this is a must-have for all collections.  (Full review here.)