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Psst–Wanna Hear a Secret? Keeping Things Private in My Life in the Fish Tank, a guest post by Barbara Dee

This may sound funny to admit, but I’ve only recently realized that all my recent books are about secrecy.

I didn’t write these books with a recurring theme in mind.  My latest Middle Grade (or, to be precise, Upper Middle Grade) books explore a variety of  “tough topics”–sexual orientation (Star-Crossed),  pediatric cancer (Halfway Normal), eating disorders (Everything I Know About You), sexual harassment (Maybe He Just Likes You).  My next book, My Life in the Fish Tank (Aladdin/S&S, Sept 15, 2020) is about a family of four kids unsettled by the oldest son’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

Looking over my shoulder, though, I see that what these very different stories have in common  is a protagonist struggling under the burden of a secret.  In Star-Crossed and Maybe He Just Likes You, it’s a secret that shouldn’t be a secret at all. In Halfway Normal, the secret is a form of self-protection. In Everything I Know About You and My Life in the Fish Tank, the secret is intended to protect others. But in all these stories, whatever motivates the desire to hide information, the secret is a source of anxiety, responsible for tensions with the protagonist’s friends and family.

My Life in the Fish Tank

In My Life in the Fish Tank, Zinny doesn’t want to keep her brother Gabriel’s mental illness secret–it’s her parents who insist on it. And actually, her parents never use the word secret–they simply ask that the kids in the family keep it private.  “For Gabriel’s sake,” they explain. 

But Zinny immediately sees through their language.

“You mean secret?” I asked.

“Not secret, private,” Dad said. He flashed mom a look.

“Okay,” I said.

But if there was a difference between those two words–“secret” and “private”–I didn’t know what it was. 

It’s not that Zinny wants to talk about her brother’s bipolar disorder (“The whole thing hurt my heart in a way I couldn’t describe…I couldn’t explain to anyone how it felt to wonder if he’d be okay.”) She’s also (rightfully) wary of friends like Maisie who pry, expecting gossipy details on demand.

But what Zinny comes to realize is that not talking to people about Gabriel  has a cost. If you don’t share vital information about yourself, if you hide your true feelings, you push people away. As the hospital social worker tells Nora in Halfway Normal, there’s no requirement that she “entertain anyone with (her) cancer story…Although not sharing can be tricky too…Maybe you want to consider how other people would feel about that.” 

I think one reason I write about secrecy so much is that in middle school, intimacy–sharing secrets–is the currency of friendship, especially among girls. So in Maybe He Just Likes You, when Mila doesn’t tell Zara about the boys’ s sexual harassment game, it seals the fate of their already rocky relationship. In Star-Crossed, Mattie’s instinct not to tell loyal but loudmouthed Tessa about her crush on Gemma almost wrecks their friendship too. In Halfway Normal Nora’s desire to keep her “cancer story” to herself is understandable–but it threatens her bonds with Harper and Griffin. Withholding secrets from your best friends can be  dangerous, a source of conflict–even when it’s for a good reason.

Sometimes I hear from adult readers, “I just wished the character had told an adult.” This comment always surprises me.  For upper elementary and middle school kids, one of the worst things you can be is a tattletale, which is why Tally resists sharing  Ava’s secret in Everything I Know About You. And when the secret is your own, you also don’t rush off to tell a grownup. You usually do one of two things: either you share it with your friends (if it’s the sort of secret that’s shareable) or you turn inward–closing yourself off, obsessing in potentially unhealthy ways.

Because as a bright, observant twelve-year-old, Zinny is starting to see that adults aren’t perfect and can’t solve all your problems. She watches her parents with sharp eyes: the way after her brother’s diagnosis her dad withdraws from the rest of the family but adopts a “bright, cheery voice” when they visit Gabriel at the residential treatment center  (“I couldn’t help thinking that he’d kept it from us, hidden away. Almost like he thought we didn’t deserve it or something.”) And even though Mom insists that she wants to keep Gabriel’s condition “private” out of respect for Gabriel, Zinny notes how Mom lies to her neighbor Mrs. Halloran, telling her that Gabriel is “back at school and working hard.”   Horrified, Zinny wonders: “Why would Mom lie about Gabriel? Was she ashamed that her own kid was crazy? Because I couldn’t think of any other reason.”

Eventually  Zinny is brave enough to confront her parents. She doesn’t call them out for stigmatizing mental illness;  she’s a kid, so she’s more focused on the way their insistence on secrecy has affected both the family and her own social life.  At the same time, Zinny has been identifying people she can confide in: kids like Kailani and the others in the Lunch Club. Adults like Mr. Patrick, the excellent guidance counselor who allows Zinny to proceed at her own pace, gradually feeling comfortable enough to share her secret. In all my stories about kids with secrets, there are good friends and less-good ones, adults who demand information (like Ms. Castro in Halfway Normal) and adults who offer support in unobtrusive ways that earn the protagonist’s trust  (like Mr. Torres in Star-Crossed and both Ms. Molina and Mr. Patrick  in Fish Tank).

If you ask me what Middle Grade books are about, I’d say they’re about this: learning to analyze behavior.  Evaluating friendships in ever-changing light. Seeing adults not as all-powerful, all-knowing paragons, but as complicated, flawed (if often benevolent) human beings.

And then figuring out your relationship with all these people–whom you can trust, especially with your precious secrets.  

Meet Barbara Dee

Barbara Dee is the author of several middle grade novels including Maybe He Just Likes You, Everything I Know About You, Halfway Normal, and Star-Crossed. Her books have received several starred reviews and been included on many best-of lists, including the ALA Rainbow List Top Ten, the Chicago Public Library Best of the Best, and the NCSS-CBC Notable Social Studies Trade Books for Young People. Star-Crossed was also a Goodreads Choice Awards finalist. Barbara is one of the founders of the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival. She lives with her family, including a naughty cat named Luna and a sweet rescue hound dog named Ripley, in Westchester County, New York.

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My wonderful local indie is Scattered Books.  They ship everywhere. I’m doing a signing there on Sat, Sept 26 from 2-4 pm. It will be outside, in front of the bookstore—COVID safe!

About My Life in the Fish Tank

My Life in the Fish Tank

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

ISBN-13: 9781534432338
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

Book Review: My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee

My Life in the Fish Tank

Publisher’s description

From acclaimed author of Maybe He Just Likes You and Halfway Normal comes a powerful and moving story of learning how to grow, change, and survive.

When twelve-year-old Zinnia Manning’s older brother Gabriel is diagnosed with a mental illness, the family’s world is turned upside down. Mom and Dad want Zinny, her sixteen-year-old sister, Scarlett, and her eight-year-old brother, Aiden, to keep Gabriel’s condition “private”—and to Zinny that sounds the same as “secret.” Which means she can’t talk about it to her two best friends, who don’t understand why Zinny keeps pushing them away, turning everything into a joke.

It also means she can’t talk about it during Lunch Club, a group run by the school guidance counselor. How did Zinny get stuck in this weird club, anyway? She certainly doesn’t have anything in common with these kids—and even if she did, she’d never betray her family’s secret.

The only good thing about school is science class, where cool teacher Ms. Molina has them doing experiments on crayfish. And when Zinny has the chance to attend a dream marine biology camp for the summer, she doesn’t know what to do. How can Zinny move forward when Gabriel—and, really, her whole family—still needs her help?

Amanda’s thoughts

The summary up there is pretty thorough and hits most of the main plot points of the story. What you need to know, what you can’t really learn from the summary, is how nuanced and emotional this story is. Many families choose to keep something like a mental illness private/secret/a family matter. I’m not here to judge people doing that (though, we all know I’m super open about our mental health issues here and think being open helps eliminate stigma and leads to more help for everyone) because mental illness is hard, family can be hard, choices are hard, and so on. But certainly for Zinny, being told to keep it private that her older brother is bipolar and in a treatment facility really destroys her.

Zinny’s parents become distant and shut down as the family tries to get through this hard time without really talking to one another about it or being open. Her mother shows signs of depression and takes a leave from her job as a teacher. Her father is always at work. No one makes dinner or takes care of things, leaving Zinny to feel like she should cook, get groceries, and so on. Her secrecy drives a wedge between her and her best friends, leaving her feeling even more isolated and alone. Her older sister is dealing with their brother’s diagnosis and absence differently than Zinny is, so she also feels a loss of kinship with her sister. She’s confused, ashamed, upset, and still not entirely clear what’s happening. Her feels even worse when she hears her mom straight up lie about her brother (he’s back at college and doing great!).

While all of that is really hard, surprising good things happen. Dee doesn’t leave Zinny alone and despairing. She gives her a great science teacher, Ms. Molina, who lets Zinny come help in her classroom during lunch, who supports her without overtly making it about what’s happening at home, and who encourages Zinny to be making connections and continuing to live her life. Dee also gives Zinny a group of new friends, a lunch bunch of other middle school kids dealing with rough issues. While Zinny isn’t thrilled to be in this group at first, she gets a lot out of those connections and finds not just kids who are also experiencing difficult times, but kids who want to be her friend, who include her, and who show her it’s okay to be dealing with family issues. Her family is struggling, but Zinny is surrounded by support and true caring. And while her parents definitely make missteps along the way (as a parent, I can safely say we all do, even if we’re certain we’re trying to do our best), they all work together to figure out how to get through this time.

Flashbacks to both happier times and moments with Gabriel that illuminate how long his mental illness went undiagnosed create a bigger and better picture of Zinny’s family. Given how many children are most certainly dealing with mental illness at home or with someone close to them, this is a much needed book that shows how hard and scary it can be, but also how much help there is and how much hope there is. Zinny’s story moves from feeling like they’re all just barely surviving this upheaval to seeing how everyone learns to function more honestly and healthily in this new reality. It’s hardly news to say that mental illness affects the entire family, but it’s so important that we see the ways this can happen and understand that it’s okay to be affected and to need to figure out a way forward. An important read and highly recommended.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781534432338
Publisher: Aladdin
Publication date: 09/15/2020
Age Range: 9 – 13 Years

A Tween’s Eye View on Graphic Novels: Click, Camp, The Breakaways, Snapdragon and Be Prepared

Thing 2, Scout, was 2 when I started Teen Librarian Toolbox. She has longed for the day when she, like her older sister, could write reviews and be a part of TLT. This year, and what a weird year it ended up being, she finished the 5th grade. Now that she is entering the 6th grade so she can officially be a TLTer. Today she is here sharing her reviews of some recent graphic novels that she has read. Scout and I have talked here often about her journey to like reading as a kid with dyslexia and graphic novels are the format she has embraced for herself. So check out her first official graphic novels column with TLT. A couple of year ago Scout created #OperationBB  in which she works hard to make sure that kids get to own books of their own.

Click by Kayla Miller

Publisher’s Book Description:

A debut graphic novel about friendship and finding where you “click” in school.

Olive wants to get in on the act . . .
. . . Any act!

Olive “clicks” with everyone in the fifth grade—until one day she doesn’t. When a school variety show leaves Olive stranded without an act to join, she begins to panic, wondering why all her friends have already formed their own groups . . . without her. With the performance drawing closer by the minute, will Olive be able to find her own place in the show before the curtain comes up?

Scout’s Thoughts: I like this book because it shows sometimes you need to ask your friends to be in a group instead of waiting for them to ask you.

Camp by Kayla Miller

Publisher’s Book Description:

Olive and Willow are happy campers!
Or are they?
 
Olive is sure she’ll have the best time at summer camp with her friend Willow – but while Olive makes quick friends with the other campers, Willow struggles to form connections and latches on to the only person she knows – Olive. It’s s’more than Olive can handle! The stress of being Willow’s living security blanket begins to wear on Olive and before long…the girls aren’t just fighting, they may not even be friends by the time camp is over. Will the two be able to patch things up before the final lights out?

Scout’s Thoughts: I like this book because it shows that sometimes friends fight.

The Breakaways by Cathy G. Johnson

Publisher’s Book Description:

Quiet, sensitive Faith starts middle school already worrying about how she will fit in. To her surprise, Amanda, a popular eighth grader, convinces her to join the school soccer team, the Bloodhounds. Having never played soccer in her life, Faith ends up on the C team, a ragtag group that’s way better at drama than at teamwork. Although they are awful at soccer, Faith and her teammates soon form a bond both on and off the soccer field that challenges their notions of loyalty, identity, friendship, and unity.

The Breakaways is a portrait of friendship in its many forms, and a raw and beautifully honest look into the lives of a diverse and defiantly independent group of kids learning to make room for themselves in the world.

Scout’s Thoughts: I like this book because it shows diversity and LGBTQ kids.

Snapkdragon by Kat Leyh

Publisher’s Book Description:

Kat Leyh’s Snapdragon is a magical realist graphic novel about a young girl who befriends her town’s witch and discovers the strange magic within herself.

Snap’s town had a witch.

At least, that’s how the rumor goes. But in reality, Jacks is just a crocks-wearing, internet-savvy old lady who sells roadkill skeletons online–after doing a little ritual to put their spirits to rest. It’s creepy, sure, but Snap thinks it’s kind of cool, too.

They make a deal: Jacks will teach Snap how to take care of the baby opossums that Snap rescued, and Snap will help Jacks with her work. But as Snap starts to get to know Jacks, she realizes that Jacks may in fact have real magic–and a connection with Snap’s family’s past.

Scout’s Thoughts: I like this book because it’s just fun to read. Also, it had witches.

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Publisher’s Book Description:

A gripping and hilarious middle-grade summer camp memoir from the author of Anya’s Ghost.

All Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp.

Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!

Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Cece Bell, and Victoria Jamieson, Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared is a funny and relatable middle-grade graphic novel about navigating your own culture, struggling to belong, and the value of true friendship.

Scout’s Thoughts: I like this book because I like going to camp and that’s what this book is about.

As a mom, not just a librarian, I would appreciate it if you could do me a solid and leave her an encouraging comment for her debut here. Thank you!

Post-It Note Reviews: Mythology, fencing, basketball, HIV, and more

School ended for me on June 5th. I gave myself two treats that day: I went to get bubble tea from my favorite local business and I picked up the library books that had been waiting for me at the public library for weeks and weeks. Our local library has been doing curbside pickup nearly the entire pandemic, a move I don’t agree with or think was in the best interest of the staff. But starting June 1st, more things began to open up here in Minnesota and I decided to do curbside pickup. I look forward to burning through my TBR list this summer as we won’t be traveling, I won’t be doing any summer library/summer school stuff, and while I should be writing, I know at least for now I only have the concentration to read, to get out of my own head and into world’s created by other people.

All descriptions from the publishers. Post-it note review follows the description.

Curse of the Night Witch by Alex Aster (ISBN-13: 9781492697206 Publisher: Sourcebooks Publication date: 06/09/2020 Series: Emblem Island Series #1, Ages 8-12)

A fast-paced series starter, perfect for fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time and filled with adventure, mythology, and an unforgettable trio of friends.

On Emblem Island all are born knowing their fate. Their lifelines show the course of their life and an emblem dictates how they will spend it.

Twelve-year-old Tor Luna was born with a leadership emblem, just like his mother. But he hates his mark and is determined to choose a different path for himself. So, on the annual New Year’s Eve celebration, where Emblemites throw their wishes into a bonfire in the hopes of having them granted, Tor wishes for a different power.

The next morning Tor wakes up to discover a new marking on his skin…the symbol of a curse that has shortened his lifeline, giving him only a week before an untimely death. There is only one way to break the curse, and it requires a trip to the notorious Night Witch.

With only his village’s terrifying, ancient stories as a guide, and his two friends Engle and Melda by his side, Tor must travel across unpredictable Emblem Island, filled with wicked creatures he only knows through myths, in a race against his dwindling lifeline.

(POST-IT SAYS: With courage and cooperation, Tor and friends use generations of stories to try to track down the Night Witch and change Tor’s story. A fast-paced and action-filled adventure full of friendship, magic, and monsters. An easy rec for fans of fantasy.)

Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes (ISBN-13: 9780316493802 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/03/2020, Ages 8-12)

From award-winning and bestselling author, Jewell Parker Rhodes comes a powerful coming-of-age story about two brothers, one who presents as white, the other as black, and the complex ways in which they are forced to navigate the world, all while training for a fencing competition.

Framed. Bullied. Disliked. But I know I can still be the best.

Sometimes, 12-year-old Donte wishes he were invisible. As one of the few black boys at Middlefield Prep, most of the students don’t look like him. They don’t like him either. Dubbing him “Black Brother,” Donte’s teachers and classmates make it clear they wish he were more like his lighter-skinned brother, Trey.

When he’s bullied and framed by the captain of the fencing team, “King” Alan, he’s suspended from school and arrested for something he didn’t do.

Terrified, searching for a place where he belongs, Donte joins a local youth center and meets former Olympic fencer Arden Jones. With Arden’s help, he begins training as a competitive fencer, setting his sights on taking down the fencing team captain, no matter what.

As Donte hones his fencing skills and grows closer to achieving his goal, he learns the fight for justice is far from over. Now Donte must confront his bullies, racism, and the corrupt systems of power that led to his arrest.

Powerful and emotionally gripping, Black Brother, Black Brother is a careful examination of the school-to-prison pipeline and follows one boy’s fight against racism and his empowering path to finding his voice.

(POST-IT SAYS: Get this book in the hands of a book club/literature circle. Readers will (hopefully) rage at the racism, bullying, and injustice. A quick read featuring a great family and a challenging and caring mentor. Will especially speak to biracial kids. Ages 8-12)

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (ISBN-13: 9781626720794 Publisher: First Second Publication date: 03/17/2020, Ages 14-17)

In his latest graphic novel, Dragon HoopsNew York Times bestselling author Gene Luen Yang turns the spotlight on his life, his family, and the high school where he teaches.

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.

(POST-IT SAYS: LOVED this! I 100% do not care about sports, but a well-written story will rope me in. An interesting memoir/biography/deep dive into one school’s team of mainly BIPOC athletes. Powerful, tense, and riveting.)

Rick by Alex Gino (ISBN-13: 9781338048100 Publisher: Scholastic, Inc. Publication date: 04/21/2020, Ages 8-12)

From the award-winning author of George, the story of a boy named Rick who needs to explore his own identity apart from his jerk of a best friend.

Rick’s never questioned much. He’s gone along with his best friend Jeff even when Jeff’s acted like a bully and a jerk. He’s let his father joke with him about which hot girls he might want to date even though that kind of talk always makes him uncomfortable. And he hasn’t given his own identity much thought, because everyone else around him seemed to have figured it out.

But now Rick’s gotten to middle school, and new doors are opening. One of them leads to the school’s Rainbow Spectrum club, where kids of many genders and identities congregate, including Melissa, the girl who sits in front of Rick in class and seems to have her life together. Rick wants his own life to be that . . . understood. Even if it means breaking some old friendships and making some new ones.

As they did in their groundbreaking novel GEORGE, in RICK, award-winning author Alex Gino explores what it means to search for your own place in the world . . . and all the steps you and the people around you need to take in order to get where you need to be.

(POST-IT SAYS: This book should be in all collections because of the focus on a group of LGBTQIAP+ middle schoolers, how characters stand up to bullying and homophobia, and the asexual representation. Not the most well-written book, but covers important ground. Ages 8-12)

American as Paneer Pie by Supriya Kelkar (ISBN-13: 9781534439382 Publisher: Aladdin Publication date: 06/09/2020, Ages 8-12)

An Indian American girl navigates prejudice in her small town and learns the power of her own voice in this brilliant gem of a middle grade novel full of humor and heart, perfect for fans of Front Desk and Amina’s Voice.

As the only Indian American kid in her small town, Lekha Divekar feels like she has two versions of herself: Home Lekha, who loves watching Bollywood movies and eating Indian food, and School Lekha, who pins her hair over her bindi birthmark and avoids confrontation at all costs, especially when someone teases her for being Indian.

When a girl Lekha’s age moves in across the street, Lekha is excited to hear that her name is Avantika and she’s Desi, too! Finally, there will be someone else around who gets it. But as soon as Avantika speaks, Lekha realizes she has an accent. She’s new to this country, and not at all like Lekha.

To Lekha’s surprise, Avantika does not feel the same way as Lekha about having two separate lives or about the bullying at school. Avantika doesn’t take the bullying quietly. And she proudly displays her culture no matter where she is: at home or at school.

When a racist incident rocks Lekha’s community, Lekha realizes she must make a choice: continue to remain silent or find her voice before it’s too late.

(POST-IT SAYS: Wide appeal—deals with common middle school issues like bullying, exclusion, and changing friendships. An easy rec for those who liked Amina’s Voice, Count Me In, and Wishtree. A great read full of warmth.)

You Say It First by Katie Cotugno (ISBN-13: 9780062674128 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 06/16/2020, Ages 13-17)

An addictive, irresistible YA novel about two teens from different worlds who fall for each other after a voter registration call turns into a long-distance romance—from Katie Cotugno, the New York Times bestselling author of 99 Days. Perfect for fans of Mary H.K. Choi, Robin Benway, and Nicola Yoon.

One conversation can change everything.

Meg has her entire life set up perfectly: she and her best friend, Emily, plan to head to Cornell together in the fall, and she works at a voter registration call center in her Philadelphia suburb. But everything changes when one of those calls connects her to a stranger from small-town Ohio.

Colby is stuck in a rut, reeling from a family tragedy and working a dead-end job. The last thing he has time for is some privileged rich girl preaching the sanctity of the political process. So he says the worst thing he can think of and hangs up.

But things don’t end there.…

That night on the phone winds up being the first in a series of candid, sometimes heated, always surprising conversations that lead to a long-distance friendship and then—slowly—to something more. Across state lines and phone lines, Meg and Colby form a once-in-a-lifetime connection. But in the end, are they just too different to make it work?

You Say It First is a propulsive, layered novel about how sometimes the person who has the least in common with us can be the one who changes us most.

(POST-IT SAYS: A quick read that will appeal to those that like a rocky road to romance. The two white main characters connect despite their differences and learn from each other. Though Meg is politically passionate, politics plays a smaller role than I’d thought/hoped they would.)

The Only Black Girls in Town by Brandy Colbert (ISBN-13: 9780316456388 Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers Publication date: 03/10/2020, Ages 10-13)

Award-winning YA author Brandy Colbert’s debut middle-grade novel about the only two black girls in town who discover a collection of hidden journals revealing shocking secrets of the past.

Beach-loving surfer Alberta has been the only black girl in town for years. Alberta’s best friend, Laramie, is the closest thing she has to a sister, but there are some things even Laramie can’t understand. When the bed and breakfast across the street finds new owners, Alberta is ecstatic to learn the family is black-and they have a 12-year-old daughter just like her.

Alberta is positive she and the new girl, Edie, will be fast friends. But while Alberta loves being a California girl, Edie misses her native Brooklyn and finds it hard to adapt to small-town living.

When the girls discover a box of old journals in Edie’s attic, they team up to figure out exactly who’s behind them and why they got left behind. Soon they discover shocking and painful secrets of the past and learn that nothing is quite what it seems.

(POST-IT SAYS: Huge fan of Colbert’s YA books and this MG debut is just as fantastic. A great look at managing new and old friendships, racism, and Black history. I loved Al’s dads and Edie’s mom and the diary/mystery element. One of the best books I’ve read lately.)

A Good Kind of Trouble by Lisa Moore Ramée (ISBN-13: 9780062836687 Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Publication date: 03/12/2019, Ages 9-12)

From debut author Lisa Moore Ramée comes this funny and big-hearted debut middle grade novel about friendship, family, and standing up for what’s right, perfect for fans of Angie Thomas’s The Hate U Give and the novels of Renée Watson and Jason Reynolds.

Twelve-year-old Shayla is allergic to trouble. All she wants to do is to follow the rules. (Oh, and she’d also like to make it through seventh grade with her best friendships intact, learn to run track, and have a cute boy see past her giant forehead.)

But in junior high, it’s like all the rules have changed. Now she’s suddenly questioning who her best friends are and some people at school are saying she’s not black enough. Wait, what?

Shay’s sister, Hana, is involved in Black Lives Matter, but Shay doesn’t think that’s for her. After experiencing a powerful protest, though, Shay decides some rules are worth breaking. She starts wearing an armband to school in support of the Black Lives movement. Soon everyone is taking sides. And she is given an ultimatum.

Shay is scared to do the wrong thing (and even more scared to do the right thing), but if she doesn’t face her fear, she’ll be forever tripping over the next hurdle. Now that’s trouble, for real.

(POST-IT SAYS: As much about the Black Lives Matter movement as it is about friendship, identity, courage, and finding your voice. A little slow to really get going, but the engaging and multifaceted characters will keep readers reading.)

We Didn’t Ask for This by Adi Alsaid (ISBN-13: 9781335146762 Publisher: Inkyard Press Publication date: 04/07/2020, Ages 13-17)

From Adi Alsaid, the acclaimed author of Let’s Get LostNever Sometimes Always, and North of Happy

Every year, lock-in night changes lives. This year, it might just change the world.

Central International School’s annual lock-in is legendary — and for six students, this year’s lock-in is the answer to their dreams. The chance to finally win the contest. Kiss the guy. Make a friend. Become the star of a story that will be passed down from student to student for years to come.

But then a group of students, led by Marisa Cuevas, stage an eco-protest and chain themselves to the doors, vowing to keep everyone trapped inside until their list of demands is met. While some students rally to the cause, others are devastated as they watch their plans fall apart. And Marisa, once so certain of her goals, must now decide just how far she’ll go to attain them.

(POST-IT SAYS: I love bottle episodes! A great concept—locked in the school for a week—full of diverse and interesting characters. I devoured this, loving all the new relationships and truths that spring up when you’re trapped together.)

Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett (ISBN-13: 9781984829955 Publisher: Random House Children’s Books Publication date: 10/29/2019, Ages 14-17)

Simone Garcia-Hampton is starting over at a new school, and this time things will be different. She’s making real friends, making a name for herself as student director of Rent, and making a play for Miles, the guy who makes her melt every time he walks into a room. The last thing she wants is for word to get out that she’s HIV-positive, because last time . . . well, last time things got ugly.
Keeping her viral load under control is easy, but keeping her diagnosis under wraps is not so simple. As Simone and Miles start going out for real—shy kisses escalating into much more—she feels an uneasiness that goes beyond butterflies. She knows she has to tell him that she’s positive, especially if sex is a possibility, but she’s terrified of how he’ll react! And then she finds an anonymous note in her locker: I know you have HIV. You have until Thanksgiving to stop hanging out with Miles. Or everyone else will know too.
Simone’s first instinct is to protect her secret at all costs, but as she gains a deeper understanding of the prejudice and fear in her community, she begins to wonder if the only way to rise above is to face the haters head-on.

(POST-IT SAYS: A really important book. Not a lot of representation yet of teens living with HIV. Full of typical teenage self-discovery complicated by Simone’s feelings about sharing her truth. Powerful and covers important ground.)

That’s the Thing with the Shots, Right? a guest post by Eve Yohalem

Eve and Jen

I don’t remember a time when diabetes wasn’t part of my life. I was eight and my sister, Jennifer, was thirteen when she developed type 1—what used to be called “juvenile diabetes” because it occurred most often in children. A couple of months after she was diagnosed, Jen read an article in PEOPLE magazine that said diabetes cut life expectancy in half, which meant she could expect to die by the time she was forty. From that moment on, Jen told me, she felt like she was living on borrowed time, scared she wouldn’t live to get married or have children, terrified she wouldn’t get to grow up.

Forty-five years later, Jen is still alive and married with a son and two dogs. Nowadays, thanks to huge improvements in treatments, plenty of people with diabetes live well into old age. But there’s still no cure. And another thing that hasn’t changed? Diabetes is still invisible.

I gave Blue, the main character in The Truth According to Blue, diabetes because I wanted to show what it’s like to have a life-threatening condition you need to think about all day every day that no one else can see. Best friends, teachers, and even sisters often don’t know how dangerous and all-consuming diabetes can be. I thought I knew a lot about the disease when I started writing. After all, I’d lived with my sister my whole childhood, and on top of that, I have borderline type 2. What could I possibly not know?

Turns out, a lot. I was amazed by how much I learned from my sister and other people with diabetes while I was researching. When you have diabetes, you’re never not thinking about it. Everything—and I mean everything—you eat, drink, do, and don’t do affects your blood sugar. And no matter how careful you are, sometimes your body just won’t listen. Or the technology breaks. Or both.

Last Thanksgiving, I sat next to Jen. Just before we started eating, she nudged me. I looked down at her glucose monitor. Her blood sugar was over 300, which is really high. I knew what that meant. You can’t eat with high blood sugar because food makes your sugar go even higher. Which meant Jen had to take insulin, wait fifteen minutes for it to kick in, check her blood sugar again, and repeat the process until her sugar went down to normal. Did I mention Thanksgiving dinner is Jen’s favorite meal?

“What’s up with that?” I whispered. Jen shrugged. “No clue. It’s been like that for two days. I can’t get it down.”

I tried not to show my panic. What if her blood sugar won’t go down? How often does this happen? Her diabetes is getting worse. Meanwhile, no one else at the table had any idea what was going on. Jen must have felt sick, but she looked fine, and nobody except me noticed her pushing some food around her plate and not eating.

That’s what it’s like to have diabetes.

Blue is spending the summer hunting for sunken treasure in a bay off Sag Harbor and dealing with a movie star’s spoiled daughter who insists on tagging along with her. At the same time, she’s monitoring her blood sugar, and feeling dizzy or tired or nauseated or worse when it gets too high or too low. Lucky for Blue, she has Otis, her beloved diabetic alert dog who’s specially trained to smell changes in blood sugar. The picture on the book jacket tells the story: two girls and a dog on a dock, scanning the water, a sunken ship beneath them. Summer fun! Adventure! Mystery! Well, yes, that’s all in the book (or at least I hope it is!). But if you look closely, you’ll see Otis is bowing down, which is how he alerts Blue that her blood sugar is low. He isn’t playing; he’s telling her she needs to stop whatever she’s doing and deal with it. As Blue says, Otis saves her life every day.

Diabetes doesn’t cut your life expectancy in half anymore, but it’s still life-threatening, and it’s still a heavy, lonely burden to carry, especially when you’re a kid. I wish there had been an Otis for Jen when she was growing up. And a book with a girl like her who has diabetes but still makes new friends and goes on big adventures. I wrote The Truth According to Blue because I wanted kids today with diabetes—and their friends, classmates, siblings, and cousins—to have the book my sister didn’t have.

Meet Eve Yohalem

Photo credit: Nicholas Polsky

Eve Yohalem is the author of middle grade novels The Truth According to Blue, Cast Off: The Strange Adventures of Petra De Winter and Bram Broen, and Escape Under the Forever Sky. She is also the co-creator and co-host of “Book Dreams,” a podcast for everyone who loves books and has ever wondered about them. Eve lives in New York City with her family and their two cats.

LINKS

Eve’s website: https://www.eveyohalem.com/

Eve talking about THE TRUTH ACCORDING TO BLUE: https://vimeo.com/394969283

Book Dreams podcast: https://www.bookdreamspodcast.com/

About The Truth According to Blue

A heartfelt middle grade adventure about one girl’s search for sunken treasure, friendship, and her place in the world.

Thirteen-year-old Blue Broen is on the hunt for a legendary ship of gold, lost centuries ago when her ancestors sailed to New York. Blue knows her overprotective parents won’t approve of her mission to find their family’s long-lost fortune, so she keeps it a secret from everyone except her constant companion, Otis, an 80-pound diabetic alert dog. But it’s hard to keep things quiet with rival treasure hunters on the loose, and with Blue’s reputation as the local poster child for a type 1 diabetes fundraiser.

Blue’s quest gets even harder when she’s forced to befriend Jules, the brainy but bratty daughter of a vacationing movie star who arrives on the scene and won’t leave Blue alone. While Blue initially resents getting stuck with this spoiled seventh grade stranger, Jules soon proves Blue’s not the only one who knows about secrets — and adventure.

Will Blue unravel a three hundred year-old family mystery, learn to stand up for herself, and find the missing treasure? Or is she destined to be nothing more than “diabetes girl” forever?

ISBN-13: 9780316424370
Publisher: Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Book Review: A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi and Laura Shovan

Publisher’s description

A timely, accessible, and beautifully written story exploring themes of food, friendship, family and what it means to belong, featuring sixth graders Sara, a Pakistani American, and Elizabeth, a white, Jewish girl taking a South Asian cooking class taught by Sara’s mom.

Sixth graders Sara and Elizabeth could not be more different. Sara is at a new school that is completely unlike the small Islamic school she used to attend. Elizabeth has her own problems: her British mum has been struggling with depression. The girls meet in an after-school South Asian cooking class, which Elizabeth takes because her mom has stopped cooking, and which Sara, who hates to cook, is forced to attend because her mother is the teacher. The girls form a shaky alliance that gradually deepens, and they make plans to create the most amazing, mouth-watering cross-cultural dish together and win a spot on a local food show. They make good cooking partners . . . but can they learn to trust each other enough to become true friends? 

Amanda’s thoughts

Here’s the really easy way I will sell this middle grade book at my school: If you enjoyed Save Me a Seat by Gita Varadarajan and Sarah Weeks, check this out! Save Me a Seat has been a local reading award nominee so many of our older students have read and enjoyed it.

Sixth grade is a rough time. I wasn’t entirely sure I was going to survive when my kid was in sixth grade. There’s so much going on. For many, it means a new school, new friends, likely drifting apart from old friends, and often an increased awareness of family issues and the world around them. These are all true things for Sara and Elizabeth. Both feel a little out of place in their suburban Maryland middle school. Sara is new to public school after years at an Islamic school. Now she’s one of very few Muslims at her school. And Elizabeth is being ditched by her best friend, in addition to worrying about if her British mother ever intends to become a citizen or may go back to England. When the two girls meet, their friendship is not immediate. It’s not some kind of instant relief or intimate understanding of the other. They are friendly-ish, on their best days, and maybe not cut out to be friends at all, on their worst days. After all, Elizabeth’s possibly former BFF is constantly saying horrific racist things to Sara, and does she really want to be friends with someone who could call a girl like that her best friend?

But they connect over cooking, and as they begin to get to know each other beyond surface impressions and quickly hurt feelings, they begin to really like one another. Their mothers become friends, too, as they both study for the citizenship test (Sara’s mother is from Pakistan). They learn about each other’s religions (Judaism and Islam), backgrounds, and families while preparing for their schools’ international festival and a cooking competition. Both girls deal with many large issues—Elizabeth’s mother is depressed after the death of her own mother and her father is often gone for work, while Sara knows that her family is not doing well financially. Having one really good friend helps both girls feel better about life in middle school, and the adults do the work of figuring out their issues and reassuring the girls that things will be okay.

I particularly value this story for showing how complex making a new friend can be, but showing characters who push through their discomfort and hesitations to make a real connection. Another strength of this story is that secondary characters work through their own issues and learn to be better friends, showing both growth and working to unlearn what they may hear at home. A valuable look at friendship, family, and fresh starts.

Review copy (ARC) courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780358116684
Publisher: HMH Books
Publication date: 05/12/2020
Age Range: 10 – 12 Years


Turner Syndrome and Representation, a guest post by Sarah Allen

I was born XO, which does not stand for hugs and kisses.

Lots of things became chaotic when I was born. I had something called omphalocele, which means my intestines were sticking out through a hole in my stomach where my belly button should have been. I was rushed to surgery before my mom was able to hold me. In the NICU, recovering from surgery number one, doctors discovered that there was another problem, one even more life-threatening. There was a constriction in my aortic valve, causing my heart to pump so hard it was growing way beyond safe size. This meant another surgery.

Oddly enough, it was something as simple as my uniquely puffy hands and feet that tipped one of my many incredible doctors off to the real underlying cause of all the medical drama. They ran some tests and confirmed the doctor’s suspicion. My dramatic entry into the world was the result of a genetic disorder called Turner syndrome.

An average person is born with 46 chromosomes. In girls, two of those chromosomes are XX. Not in girls with Turner syndrome. Turner syndrome means you are born with only one X instead of two. A missing X, for a total of 45 chromosomes.

XO.

There are a few core things that come with having Turner syndrome. Short stature is one, and I took growth hormone shots starting at age eight that helped me reach my happy five-foot-four. Another aspect is infertility. Many also deal with heart or kidney problems, some vision or hearing loss, and physical characteristics such as low-set ears, wide neck, and barrel-shaped ribs. It can also come accompanied by learning disabilities such as Non-verbal Learning Disorder.

Here’s the thing, though. With some support and determination, there’s nothing in this unique set of challenges to stop a Turners girl from living a normal, happy, even thrilling life of her choosing. My parents signed me up for the best school they could find, and put me in extracurriculars the same as all my other siblings. They expected self-sufficiency and hard work, and I learned from them that nothing could stop me from achieving what I wanted in my life. (Like publishing a book, maybe?)

But here’s the other thing: I never once saw myself represented in the books I read, or in any other media for that matter. I loved spunky girls like Ramona and Anne Shirley, but none of the characters ever looked quite like me, or was thinking about the uncommon challenges I was facing.

To be honest, this is not terribly surprising. Only 1 in 2500 girls is born XO. Only 1-2% of embryos with monosomy X are even carried to term, resulting in 10-20% of all miscarriages. But I knew girls like me were out there. In my gut I believed our stories mattered just like anyone else’s.

It took several other novels and help from professors in my MFA program at Brigham Young University, but I finally felt ready to tell a story about a girl with Turner syndrome.

And this is how Libby and WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF was born. I didn’t see my physical story, my body, represented in any of the books I read. Honestly, I felt like a pretty normal kid, a pretty normal person, and I would have given anything to find a book that told me, yeah, I was. I wanted to offer that to other readers.

STARS is about a girl who loves with everything she has, and never stops trying to help the most important people in her life despite her challenges. STARS is about the value inherent in every individual, no matter their circumstances or limitations, full stop. I wanted to reflect that individual worth to anyone who happened to pick up my book, no matter who they are, where they live, or what they look like.

C.S. Lewis said, “We read to know that we are not alone.” This has always been my writing mantra. I wrote this book for the girls like me, and for any kid who feels themselves on the fringes of “normal.” I wrote it as a celebration of weirdness and individuality. I want every reader who picks up this book to leave assured of one important thing: you are what stars are made of.

Sarah grew up in Utah and currently lives in the Pacific Northwest. Like Libby in WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF, she was born with Turner syndrome. She has an MFA from Brigham Young University, and in her spare time can be found writing poetry and watching David Attenborough documentaries or Pixar movies. She is a hardcore fan of golden retrievers, leather jackets, and Colin Firth.

WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF
Farrar, Straus and Giroux (BYR)
FSG Books for Young Readers
On Sale: 03/31/2020
ISBN: 9780374313197
Ages 10-14

Sarah would love it if you could support her indie, Third Place Books, which is offering signed copies of WHAT STARS ARE MADE OF.

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Fall 2020 Showcase: Quests, anxiety, ghosts, rom-coms, and more!

Book mail is my favorite of all the mail. Our UPS guy probably hates me, but for me, the fact that I get packages of books delivered almost daily is VERY EXCITING!

All of the books I get end up going back out the door in some fashion—to young 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.

Pull out your TBR lists or get ready to add to the orders for books that stock your library or classroom shelves. Today I’m sharing with you forthcoming titles from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All annotations are from the publisher.

Middle grade

The Puppet’s Payback and Other Chilling Tales by Mary Downing Hahn (ISBN-13: 9780358067320 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 09/01/2020 Ages 8-12)

The author of wildly popular ghost stories, Mary Downing Hahn has created a group of tales for fans of her “scary but not too scary” books. Even the stories without actual ghosts are spooky. Each tale turns something ordinary—a pigeon, a white dress, a stranger on the bus, a puppet—into a sinister link to to the supernatural. For the human characters, secrets from the past or careless behavior in the present can lead to serious trouble. All the stories have a young person as the central character, so all will resonate with young readers who enjoy the eerie, the creepy, and the otherworldly. In a concluding note, the author talks about how she came to write ghost stories.

Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery by Renee Treml (ISBN-13: 9780358311843 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 09/22/2020 Ages 8-12)

An action-packed graphic novel mystery with gentle humor and Bad Guys–style illustrations, perfect for dinosaur-loving emerging readers.

Hi there, I’m Sherlock Bones.

Who is Sherlock Bones, you ask? Well, I dont like to brag, but my trusty side-kick Watts says Im the greatest detective in our whole museum.

Dont you, Watts?

Watts . . . ?

Sherlock Bones and his sidekick, a stuffed parrot named Watts, live in a natural history museum. So when the precious Royal Blue Diamond goes missing, they are first on the case. What they don’t expect is Grace, a silly, new-to-the-scene raccoon who keeps getting in the way. Even worse, Bones and Watts learn that if the diamond isn’t recovered, the museum could (GASP!) close! Can they find the diamond before they’re forced to find another home?

Timo the Adventurer by Jonathan Garnier, Yohan Sacré (ISBN-13: 9780358360124 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 10/13/2020 Ages 8-12)

Having read every book in his tiny village, young Timo decides it is time to leave home and become a hero. And while that is easier said than done, Timo is determined to succeed. When he rescues an enchanted beast named Broof, Timo gains a gruff and reluctant ally. But little does good-hearted Timo suspect that Broof’s mysterious past will bring complications to his journey…. An engaging hero, surprising plot twists, and a host of fantastical creatures keep readers turning the pages of this spelling-binding fantasy.

No Place for Monsters by Kory Merritt (ISBN-13: 9780358128533 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 10/20/2020 Ages 8-12)

In this spellbinding, lavishly illustrated story that Diary of a Wimpy Kid author Jeff Kinney calls “wildly imaginative and totally terrifying,” two unlikely friends face down their worst fears in order to stop their small town—and themselves—from disappearing.

Levi and Kat are about to discover a very dark side to their neighborhood.

Nothing ever seems out of place in the safe, suburban town of Cowslip Grove.?Lawns are neatly mowed, sidewalks are tidy, and?the sounds of ice cream trucks?fill the air.?But now . . . kids have been going missing—except no one even realizes it, because no one remembers them. Not their friends. Not their teachers. Not even their families.

But Levi and Kat do remember, and suddenly only they can see why?everyone is?in terrible danger when the night air rolls in. Now it is up to Levi and Kat to fight it and save the missing kids before it swallows the town whole.

The Last Mirror on the Left by Lamar Giles, Dapo Adeola (ISBN-13: 9780358129417 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 10/20/2020 Ages 8-12)

In this new Legendary Alston Boys adventure from Edgar-nominated author Lamar Giles, Otto and Sheed must embark on their most dangerous journey yet, bringing a fugitive to justice in a world that mirrors their own but has its own rules to play by.

Unlike the majority of Logan County’s residents, Missus Nedraw of the Rorrim Mirror Emporium remembers the time freeze from The Last Last-Day-of-Summer, and how Otto and Sheed took her mirrors without permission in order to fix their mess. Usually that’s an unforgivable offense, punishable by a million-year sentence. However, she’s willing to overlook the cousins’

misdeeds if they help her with a problem of her own. One of her worst prisoners has escaped, and only the Legendary Alston Boys of Logan County can help bring the fugitive to justice.

This funny and off-the-wall adventure is perfect for readers of Jonathan Auxier and Lemony Snicket.

Anya and the Nightingale by Sofiya Pasternack (ISBN-13: 9780358006022 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 11/10/2020 Ages 8-12)

The adventure continues in this exciting sequel to Anya and the Dragon in which a dangerous monster lurks beneath the city and only Anya can keep him from taking her friends’ magic—and their lives. Perfect for fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon.

It’s been a year since a violent Viking terrorized the small village of Zmeyreka and Anya and her foolish friend Ivan saved a friendly dragon from being sacrificed for his magic.

But things still aren’t safe in the kingdom of Kievan Rus’.

After embarking on a journey to bring her papa home from war, Anya discovers a powerful forest creature terrorizing travelers. But she soon learns that he’s not the monster the kingdom should fear. There’s an even greater evil that lurks under the city.

Can Anya stop the monster, save her papa, and find her way home? Or will the secrets of Kiev leave Anya and her friends trapped beneath the city forever?

The Boy, the Wolf, and the Stars by Shivaun Plozza (ISBN-13: 9780358243892 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 11/10/2020 Ages 8-12)

A boy and his pet fox go on a quest to find a wolf who has eaten all the stars in the sky before the Shadow Witch destroys the stars and removes good magic from the world forever, perfect for fans of The Girl Who Drank the Moon and Nevermoor.

Long ago, the land of Ulv was filled with magic. But that was before a wolf ate all the Stars in the night sky, ridding the world of magic and allowing Shadow Creatures, beasts made of shadow and evil, to flourish. Twelve-year-old Bo knows the stories but thinks the Stars and the wolf who ate them are nothing more than myths—until the day Bo’s guardian, Mads, is attacked by a giant wolf straight from the legends. With his dying breath, Mads tells Bo that Ulv is in danger and the only way to prevent the Shadow Creatures from taking over is to return the Stars to the sky.

And so Bo—accompanied by his best friend, a fox called Nix, a girl named Selene who’s magic is tied to the return of the Stars, and Tam, a bird-woman who has vowed to protect Bo at all costs—sets off on a quest to find the three magical keys that will release the Stars. But Bo isn’t the only one who wants the Stars, and the friends soon find themselves fleeing angry villagers, greedy merchants, and a vengeful wolf. And all the while, an evil witch lurks in the shadows and time is running out.

The Rembrandt Conspiracy by Deron R. Hicks (ISBN-13: 9780358256212 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 12/01/2020 Ages 8-12)

In this standalone companion to The Van Gogh Deception, Art and Camille team up once again to solve a large museum theft, using one of the biggest heists in history to help them solve the case. Perfect for fans of Dan Brown and the Mr. Lemoncello’s Library and Book Scavenger series.

Something’s brewing at the National Portrait Gallery Museum in Washington, D.C. twelve-year-old Art is sure of it. But his only proof that a grand heist is about to take place is iced mocha, forty-two steps, and a mysterious woman who appears like clockwork in the museum.

When Art convinces his best friend, Camille, that the heist is real, the two begin a thrilling chase through D.C. to uncover a villainous scheme that could be the biggest heist since the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum theft in 1990. With a billion dollars’ worth of paintings on the line, the clock is ticking for Art and Camille to solve the conspiracy.

Just Like That by Gary D. Schmidt (ISBN-13: 9780544084773 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 01/05/2021 Ages 8-12)

In this poignant, perceptive, witty novel, Gary D. Schmidt brings authenticity and emotion to multiple plot strands, weaving in themes of grief, loss, redemption, achievement, and love. Following the death of her closest friend in summer 1968, Meryl Lee Kowalski goes off to St. Elene’s Preparatory Academy for Girls, where she struggles to navigate the venerable boarding school’s traditions and a social structure heavily weighted toward students from wealthy backgrounds. In a parallel story, Matt Coffin has wound up on the Maine coast near St. Elene’s with a pillowcase full of money lifted from the leader of a criminal gang, fearing the gang’s relentless, destructive pursuit. Both young people gradually dispel their loneliness, finding a way to be hopeful and also finding each other.

From Here to There: Inventions That Changed the Way the World Moves by Vivian Kirkfield, Gilbert Ford (ISBN-13: 9781328560919 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 01/19/2021 Ages 8-12)

Celebrating the invention of vehicles, this collective biography tells the inspiring stories of the visionaries who changed the way we move across air, water, and land. Perfect for fans of Mistakes that Worked and Girls Think of Everything.

In a time when people believed flying was impossible, Joseph and Etienne Montgolfier proved that the sky wasn’t the limit. When most thought horseback was the only way to race, Bertha and Karl Benz fired up their engines. From the invention of the bicycle and the passenger steam locomotive, to the first liquid-fuel propelled rocket and industrial robot, inventors across the world have redefined travel. Filled with informative sidebars and colorful illustrations, this collective biography tells the story of the experiments, failures, and successes of visionaries who changed the way the world moves.

Ghosted by Michael Fry (ISBN-13: 9780358269618 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 01/19/2021 Ages 8-12)

From the best-selling author of the How to be a Supervillian series, comes this laugh-out-loud, heavily illustrated story of a shy boy, his best-friend-turned-ghost, and their bucket list of adventures and dares. Perfect for fans of the Timmy Failure and Diary of a Wimpy Kid series.

Larry’s got a few problems. In school, he’s one of those kids who easily gets lost in the crowd. And Grimm, Larry’s best friend in the whole world, has ghosted him. Literally. One minute Grimm was saving a cat in a tree during a lightning storm, and the next, he’s pulling pranks on Larry in his new ghostly corporal form.

When the two best friends realize that there’s something keeping Grimm tethered to their world, they decide that finishing their Totally To-Do bucket list is the perfect way to help Grimm with his unfinished business. Pulling hilarious pranks and shenanigans may be easier with a ghostly best friend, but as Larry and Grimm brave the scares of seventh grade, they realize that saying goodbye might just be the scariest part of middle school.

The Year I Flew Away by Marie Arnold (ISBN-13: 9780358272755 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/02/2021 Ages 10-12)

In this magical middle-grade novel, ten-year-old Gabrielle finds out that America isn’t the perfect place she imagined when she moves from Haiti to Brooklyn. With the help of a clever witch, Gabrielle becomes the perfect American — but will she lose herself in the process? Perfect for fans of HURRICANE CHILD and FRONT DESK.

It’s 1985 and ten-year-old Gabrielle is excited to be moving from Haiti to America. Unfortunately, her parents won’t be able to join her yet and she’ll be living in a place called Brooklyn, New York, with relatives she has never met. She promises her parents that she will behave, but life proves to be difficult in the United States, from learning the language to always feeling like she doesn’t fit in to being bullied. So when a witch offers her a chance to speak English perfectly and be “American,” she makes the deal. But soon she realizes how much she has given up by trying to fit in and, along with her two new friends (one of them a talking rat), takes on the witch in an epic battle to try to reverse the spell.

Gabrielle is a funny and engaging heroine you won’t soon forget in this sweet and lyrical novel that’s perfect for fans of Hurricane Child and Front Desk.

Of a Feather by Dayna Lorentz (ISBN-13: 9780358283539 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/09/2021 Ages 10-12)

In the vein of Barbara O’Connor’s Wish, a moving, poignant story told in alternating perspectives about a down-on-her-luck girl who rescues a baby owl, and how the two set each other free.

Great horned owl Rufus is eight months old and still can’t hunt. When his mother is hit by a car, he discovers just how dangerous the forest can be.

Reenie has given up on adults and learned how to care for herself—a good thing, since she’s sent to live with an aunt she’s never met. Yet this aunt has a wonderful secret: she’s a falconer who agrees to help Reenie catch an injured passage hawk in the wild and rehabilitate it.

When Reenie traps bedraggled Rufus, his eyes lock onto her heart, and they form a powerful friendship. But can Rufus learn to trust in the outside world and fly free? And can Reenie open her heart enough to truly soar?

Sydney and Taylor Explore the Whole Wide World by Jacqueline Davies, Deborah Hocking (ISBN-13: 9780358354758 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/16/2021 Ages 8-12)

Best-selling author Jacqueline Davies tells the story of two unlikely friends: Sydney and Taylor, a skunk and a hedgehog who strike out to discover the great unknown, despite how afraid they are of it. Charming full-color illustrations and a laugh-out-loud story make this chapter book perfect for fans of the Mercy Watson and Owl Diaries series.

Sydney is a skunk and Taylor is a hedgehog, but no matter how odd the pairing may seem, their friendship comes naturally. They live happily in their cozy burrow . . . until the day Taylor gets his Big Idea to go see the Whole Wide World. From mountains taller than a hundred hedgehogs, valleys wider than a thousand skunks, to the dangers that lie in the human world, Sydney and Taylor wanted to see it all. With a map and a dream, they bravely set off, soon discovering that the world is much bigger than they realized . . .

The Deepest Breath by Meg Grehan (ISBN-13: 9780358354758 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/16/2021 Ages 8-12)

An accessible and beautifully written middle grade novel-in-verse by award-winning Irish author Meg Grehan about Stevie, a young girl reckoning with anxiety about the many things she has yet to understand—including her feelings about her friend Chloe. Perfect for fans of Ivy Aberdeen’s Letter to the World, Star Crossed, and George.

11-year-old Stevie is an avid reader and she knows a lot of things about a lot of things. But these are the things she’d like to know the most:

1. The ocean and all the things that live there and why it’s so scary

2. The stars and all the constellations

3. How phones work

4. What happened to Princess Anastasia

5. Knots

Knowing things makes Stevie feel safe, powerful, and in control should anything bad happen. And with the help of her mom, she is finding the tools to manage her anxiety.

But there’s one something Stevie doesn’t know, one thing she wants to understand above everything else, and one thing she isn’t quite ready to share with her mom: the fizzy feeling she gets in her chest when she looks at her friend, Chloe. What does it mean and why isn’t she ready to talk about it?

In this poetic exploration of identity and anxiety, Stevie must confront her fears to find inner freedom all while discovering it is our connections with others that make us stronger.

The Raconteur’s Commonplace Book: A Greenglass House Story by Kate Milford (ISBN-13: 9781328466907 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/23/2021 Ages 8-12)

Nothing is what it seems and there’s always more than one side to the story as a group of strangers trapped in an inn slowly reveal their secrets in this new standalone mystery set in the world of the best-selling Greenglass House, from a National Book Award nominee and Edgar Award–winning author.

The rain hasn’t stopped for a week, and the twelve guests of the Blue Vein Tavern are trapped by flooded roads and the rising Skidwrack River. Among them are a ship’s captain, tattooed twins, a musician, and a young girl traveling on her own. To pass the time, they begin to tell stories—each a different type of folklore—that eventually reveal more about their own secrets than they intended.

As the rain continues to pour down—an uncanny, unnatural amount of rain—the guests begin to realize that the entire city is in danger, and not just from the flood. But they have only their stories, and one another, to save them. Will it be enough?

Young adult

Under Shifting Stars by Alexandra Latos (ISBN-13: 9780358067757 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 09/29/2020 Ages 12-16)

This heartfelt novel for fans of Jandy Nelson and Adam Silvera follows twins Audrey and Clare as they grapple with their brother’s death and their changing relationships—with each other and themselves.

Audrey and Clare may be twins, but they don’t share a school, a room, a star sign, or even a birthday. Ever since their brother Adam’s death, all they’ve shared is confusion over who they are and what comes next.

Audrey, tired of being seen as different from her neurotypical peers, is determined to return to public school. Clare is grappling with her gender fluidity and is wondering what emerging feelings for a nonbinary classmate might mean. Will first crushes, new family dynamics, and questions of identity prove that Audrey and Clare have grown too different to understand each other—or that they’ve needed each other all along?

It Only Happens in the Movies by Holly Bourne (ISBN-13: 9780358172062 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 12/01/2020 Ages 14-18)

From award-winning British author Holly Bourne comes a clever, deconstructed rom-com that proves that in real life “girl meets boy” doesn’t always mean “happily ever after” . . . or does it? At turns funny, feminist, and achingly real, this read is perfect for fans of Sophie Kinsella, Patrick Ness, and Julie Buxbaum.

Audrey is over romance. While dealing with her parents’ contentious divorce, a breakup of her own, and shifting friendship dynamics, she has every reason to feel cynical. But then she meets Harry, her fellow coworker at the local cinema. He’s brash, impulsive, and a major flirt. And even though Audrey tries to resist, she finds herself falling for his charms. But in this funny, insightful, and ultimately empowering novel, love—and life—isn’t what it’s like in the movies.

Curse of the Divine by Kim Smejkal (ISBN-13: 9781328637253 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/09/2021 Ages 14-18)

Return to the world of inklings, tattoo magic, and evil deities as Celia uncovers the secrets of the ink in order to stop Diavala once and for all. This eagerly anticipated sequel to Ink in the Blood is perfect for fans of Leigh Bardugo and Wicked Saints.

Celia Sand faced Diavala and won, using ink magic to destroy the corrupt religion of Profeta that tormented her for a decade. But winning came with a cost. Now Celia is plagued with guilt over her role in the death of her best friend. When she discovers that Diavala is still very much alive and threatening Griffin, the now-infamous plague doctor, Celia is desperate not to lose another person she loves to the deity’s wrath.

The key to destroying Diavala may lie with Halycon Ronnea, the only other person to have faced Diavala and survived. But Halcyon is dangerous and has secrets of his own, ones that involve the ink that Celia has come to hate. Forced to choose between the ink and Diavala, Celia will do whatever it takes to save Griffin—even if it means making a deal with the devil himself.

Some Other Now by Sarah Everett (ISBN-13: 9780358251866 Publisher: HMH Books Publication date: 02/23/2021 Ages 14-18)

This Is Us for teens, this luminous and heartbreaking contemporary novel follows a girl caught between two brothers as the three of them navigate family, loss, and love over the course of two summers. For fans of Far From the TreeEmergency Contact, and Nina LaCour.

Before she kissed one of the Cohen boys, seventeen-year-old Jessi Rumfield knew what it was like to have a family—even if, technically, that family didn’t belong to her. She’d spent her childhood in the house next door, challenging Rowan Cohen to tennis matches while his older brother, Luke, studied in the background and Mel watched over the three like the mother Jessi always wished she had.

But then everything changed. It’s been almost a year since Jessi last visited the Cohen house. Rowan is gone. Mel is in remission and Luke hates Jessi for the role she played in breaking his family apart. Now Jessi spends her days at a dead-end summer job avoiding her real mother, who suddenly wants to play a role in Jessi’s life after being absent for so long. But when Luke comes home from college, it’s hard to ignore the past. And when he asks Jessi to pretend to be his girlfriend for the final months of Mel’s life, Jessi finds herself drawn back into the world of the Cohens. Everything’s changed, but Jessi can’t help wanting to be a Cohen, even if it means playing pretend for one final summer.

Writing on Wheels, a guest post by Kit Rosewater

I wasn’t an athletic kid.

That’s what I said to people if they asked what I was into. I said I was a theatre geek, a book nerd, one of those kids who only worked out when lifting a stack of books or swinging around a fake plastic sword.

Those were lies, of course, though I didn’t quite realize it at the time.

As a younger kid—think elementary school age—I actually loved being athletic. I won medals at the annual “jog-a-thons” my school held in second and third grade. When I read books like Bridge to Terabithia, I related hardcore to Jesse’s dreams of winning his classmates’ unofficial morning race. I rode bikes on mountain trails with my much more experienced older cousin and had the scars from falling over and over to prove it. But more than any other activity, I loved roller skating at the YMCA with my sister every day after school in fourth and fifth grade.   

We would snap our fingers and shake our hips whenever Will Smith’s jam “Getting’ Jiggly Wit It” came over the speakers. We learned how to crouch low to gather speed, cross one skate over the other, skate backward, the whole caboodle. Those were some of the best afternoons of my childhood.

I don’t remember when the transition happened between me loving both the arts and sports to me thinking I had to choose between one or the other. I suspect it had to do with that phenomenon a lot of middle school kids face, where they feel like they need to fit into a label… or else they won’t fit in anywhere. 

In sixth grade the whole grade level had to perform two weeks’ worth of physical ability tests for our PE groups. Out of groups A (for the super sporty kids), B (the pretty sporty kids), C (the kids with nothing special going on), and D (the kids who needed serious coordination help) … I got placed in C. 

Whelp, guess I’m not an athlete, I thought. 

I tucked my skates, helmet, and knee and elbow pads away onto a high shelf in the garage. I picked up my books and busied myself with other creative, artsy activities. 

As I grew up in middle school, then high school, then college, my labels grew and solidified around me. Every time I felt breathless on a run with friends, or missed a basket when shooting hoops at the park, I hid behind my self-imposed label. 

“I’m not athletic!” I would whine. And then I’d shuffle off before someone could challenge what that kind of declaration even meant.

For years I learned how to push myself in reading and critical thinking. I grew in my craft as a writer. I found out that just because I was interested in something (like being an author), that didn’t mean I was inherently good at it. I had to work really hard at every stage, but I slowly learned that with enough practice, patience, perseverance, I could figure out how to steadily improve in anything I set my mind to. 

Fast forward to early 2017, when I had just moved to Austin, Texas and was playing host to friends from Albuquerque, New Mexico. Under an Austin page of events, I found two roller derby leagues operating with open bouts (roller derby games) outsiders could buy tickets to go see.

From the moment those derby teams hit the track, I was hooked

I had never seen such diversity in a team of players before. Suddenly it didn’t seem to matter how tall or short you were, how much you weighed, how muscular your arms were… anyone could be lacing up and rolling onto the rink. I could be lacing up! Roller derby had taken everything I thought I knew about sports and the types of people who called themselves “all-stars” and turned it all upside down. I had to know more.

Meanwhile, I was still waist-deep in my efforts to become an author. I was working on a different project that had started to lose its shiny appeal. My agent and I discussed setting that project aside and trying something new. This time as I mulled over ideas, I turned over my childhood memories and experiences like stones. I tapped on them, wondering which ones were duds and which were geodes, full of glimmering possibility. 

I remembered how much I had loved running, and biking, and most of all—skating—when I was a kid. 

I finally decided not to choose between labels anymore. I had found my next big project. 

If young readers take any one point away from The Derby Daredevils series, I hope it’s that they realize they don’t need to choose what kind of person they are. After reading Book 1, they might want to lace up their own pair of skates. Or not! Whatever they choose to be into and excited about, there’s plenty of room for them to explore lots of activities and interests and hobbies. Being good or not so good at something right away doesn’t determine how much we get to love it. We can be book nerds and runners, theatre geeks and MVPs…

…readers and daredevils. 

Meet Kit Rosewater

Kit Rosewater writes books for children. She lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico with her spouse and a border collie who takes up most of the bed. Before she was an author, Kit taught middle school theatre and high school English, then worked as a children’s bookseller. She has a master’s degree in Children’s Literature from Hollins University. Books 1 & 2 of her debut middle grade series The Derby Daredevils roll out in Spring and Fall 2020 through Abrams. Catch her online at kitrosewater.com or @kitrosewater.

About The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team

The first in a highly-illustrated middle grade series that celebrates new friendships, first crushes, and getting out of your comfort zone. 

Best friends Kenzie “Kenzilla” Ellington and Shelly “Bomb Shell” Baum are counting down the days to their roller derby debut. It looks like their dream is coming true when Austin’s city league announces a junior league. But there’s a catch. To try out together, the Dynamic Duo will have to form a team of five players… in just one week! 

As they start convincing other girls that roller derby is the coolest thing on wheels, Kenzie has second thoughts. Why is Shelly acting like everyone’s best friend? Isn’t she supposed to be Kenzie’s best friend? And things get really awkward when Shelly recruits Kenzie’s neighbor (and secret crush!) for the team.

With lots of humor and an authentic middle grade voice, the first book of this empowering series follows Kenzie, Shelly, and the rest of the Derby Daredevils as they learn how to fall—and get back up again.

ISBN: 978-1-4197-4079-4
Illustrator: Sophie Escabasse

Publisher: Abrams Books
Publication date: 03/24/2020
Age Range: 8 – 12 Years

Kit would love if it you would support one of two independent bookstores in this tough time for everyone: Bookworks of Albuquerque or Bookpeople of Austin, TX.

My Agenda for Middle Grade Books, a guest post by Greg Howard

“Never before have I thrown a book away, yours is the first.”

That’s how the email began.

It was last summer, about eight months after the release of my debut middle grade novel, The Whispers. I’d been riding pretty high on positive reviews from the likes of The New York Times Book Review, The Guardian, The Washington Post, Entertainment Weekly, and others. I’d received a number of emails from kids and parents the world over telling me how much they loved the book and how the story touched them deeply. But all that was momentarily overshadowed by this new website contact submission form in my inbox.

If you haven’t read The Whispers, trust me, it’s a sweet and pretty innocuous story. Riley, the eleven-year-old protagonist, is struggling to come to terms with the fact that he likes boys instead of girls (there is a crush on an older boy and chaste – even comical – kiss between two boys). But that’s not the main story, not even close. It just happens to be who Riley is and what he’s going through at that moment in his life.

I was Riley—a lonely kid growing up in the deep South knowing that I wasn’t like the other boys around me. I never saw myself represented in the books I read, or on the TV shows I watched and that made me feel like I was the only boy in the whole world who was desperately attracted to other boys. The glaring lack of representation in books, television, and movies only compounded my sense of isolation and loneliness, making me feel even more like a freak than I already did. I can’t imagine the anguish I would have been saved if I’d had access to even one book at that age in which I saw another boy like me. It would have given me something I severely lacked at that point in my life—hope.

The email I received last summer was from a father whose son was reading The Whispers. Apparently when he asked his son to talk about was going on in the book, the boy’s response sparked his curiosity, so he read “a chapter or two” only to find, in his words, “references that project your own sexuality onto the lives of others,” and “you couldn’t resist having this projected onto my boy.”

The man went on to say, “…the moment you cross into my world and suggest to my kids your sexuality – you are pushing your own homosexual agenda. Your story didn’t need this. Your story didn’t need to mention that the character was straight, or gay. Just tell your story and have kids enjoy it.”

To emphasize his disgust, he was also kind enough to send me a picture of my book in the trash.

A picture containing indoor, bed, white, sitting

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The first thing I thought when I saw this picture was, if this man’s son is gay, he just saw his father reject him and throw him in the trash, and the mere possibility of that breaks my heart.

But what this father was clearly saying in his email was that the mere suggestion of my existence, and the existence of kids like Riley, was and affront to him, his family, and his beliefs. And that in simply living my truth and even “mentioning” that Riley was attracted to other boys, I was pushing my “homosexual agenda.” I suppose all those books I read as a kid in which the boys were attracted only to girls and girls were attracted only to boys were pushing a heterosexual agenda on me. No one asked me how I felt about that, or if I was offended to have to read about such things, but I digress.

After the initial shock and deflation from reading the man’s email, I became more motivated than ever to write stories for and about queer kids. I was in the process of writing my new book when I received the email. Middle School’s a Drag: You Better Werk! is a contemporary story set in Charleston, South Carolina, in which twelve-year-old Mikey—gay but not out publicly yet—starts a junior talent agency and signs a thirteen-year-old drag queen, Coco Caliente, Mistress of Madness and Mayhem, as his first client. (Drag kids exist, too! Google it.) The man’s email also motivated me to make Mikey’s parents overwhelmingly accepting and supportive—sometimes annoyingly so, in Mikey’s opinion. Mikey has a crush on another boy at school, but as in The Whispers, that’s not what the story is about it. It’s just a part of who Mikey is. Queer kids exist and (News Alert!) they have crushes just like straight, or cishet, kids do.

Other than a handful of homophobic bully characters in Middle School’s a Drag: You Better Werk! Mikey’s world is somewhat of a middle school gaytopia. I wrote it that way on purpose. Because even if that’s not the norm in some parts of the South or in other parts of the country, don’t queer kids deserve that kind of hope too? The hope that one day they can be themselves openly and without fear of backlash for simply existing. The hope that they won’t be marginalized and othered in their daily lives. And the hope that they’ll have access to a plethora of books in which they see themselves represented, accepted, and celebrated.

Having been gay for some time now (read: always), I have yet to discover this elusive and seemingly subversive “homosexual agenda” that I’ve heard so much about over the years and have been accused of “pushing” onto kids in my books. But this man’s email inspired me to create my own, simple as it is. So, I thank him for that.

GREG HOWARD’S HOMOSEXUAL AGENDA FOR MIDDLE GRADE NOVELS

Write good books in which queer kids feel seen and represented.

Give queer kids their happily ever afters.

And most importantly, give them hope.

That’s it.

Meet Greg Howard

Photo credit: Jamie Wright Images

Born and raised in the South Carolina Lowcountry, Greg Howard’s love of words and story blossomed at a young age. Originally set on becoming a famous songwriter and following that dream to the bright lights of Nashville, Tennessee, Greg spent years producing the music of others before eventually returning to his childhood passion of writing stories. Greg writes young adult and middle grade novels focusing on LGBTQ characters and issues. He has an unhealthy obsession with Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and currently resides in Nashville with his three rescued fur babies–Molly, Toby, and Riley. Connect with Greg at www.greghowardbooks.com or on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter: @greghowardbooks

About Middle School’s a Drag, You Better Werk!

In this heartfelt and hilarious new novel from Greg Howard, an enterprising boy starts his own junior talent agency and signs a thirteen-year-old aspiring drag queen as his first client.

Twelve-year-old Mikey Pruitt—president, founder, and CEO of Anything, Inc.—has always been an entrepreneur at heart. Inspired by his grandfather Pap Pruitt, who successfully ran all sorts of businesses from a car wash to a roadside peanut stand, Mikey is still looking for his million-dollar idea. Unfortunately, most of his ideas so far have failed. A baby tornado ran off with his general store, and the kids in his neighborhood never did come back for their second croquet lesson. But Mikey is determined to keep at it.

It isn’t until kid drag queen Coco Caliente, Mistress of Madness and Mayhem (aka eighth grader Julian Vasquez) walks into his office (aka his family’s storage/laundry room) looking for an agent that Mikey thinks he’s finally found his million-dollar idea, and the Anything Talent and Pizzazz Agency is born!

Soon, Mikey has a whole roster of kid clients looking to hit it big or at least win the middle school talent show’s hundred-dollar prize. As newly out Mikey prepares Julian for the gig of a lifetime, he realizes there’s no rulebook for being gay—and if Julian can be openly gay at school, maybe Mikey can, too, and tell his crush, dreamy Colton Sanford, how he feels.

Full of laughs, sass, and hijinks, this hilarious, heartfelt story shows that with a little effort and a lot of love, anything is possible.

ISBN-13: 9780525517528
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 02/11/2020
Age Range: 10 – 12 Years