Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Pippa Park is back!

Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight, by Erin Yun, (Sept. 2022, Fabled Films Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781944020804

Ages 9-12

In 2019, Pippa Park Raises Her Game hit middle grade shelves and made a splash: a modern-day take on Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, with a Korean-American lead character and a group of mean girls who broke all the stereotypes. I devoured the book and have booktalked this to dozens of my library kids. I’m so happy that we’ve got a follow-up to love now, too: Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight picks up shortly after Pippa Park Raises Her Game. Pippa’s getting into the swing of life at her school, she’s kinda sorta a Royal, even though Caroline seems to be trying her best to get Pippa to throw in the towel, and her best friend, Buddy, is now dating Helen. There’s a new crush on the scene, too: Marvel, an old friend, shows up on the scene when Pippa agrees to help volunteer with a local pastor’s drama club and sends Pippa into a tailspin: sure, Eliot is blonde and handsome, but Marvel is fun, makes her laugh, and likes the same things that she does! The fun begins when Pippa rashly agrees to host the Royals’ Christmas party at her sister’s apartment, just as Pippa’s sister takes in a very talkative neighbor, Ms. Lee, who’s recovering from an injury. Pippa hasn’t learned all of her lessons from the last time: she’s still trying to do it all, and putting off disaster for another day.

Pippa Park is such a great character: she’s got great depth, able to move from being bubbly and fun to stressed the heck out, to conflicted, all at once. She’s the very definition of tween! (Okay, and maybe 50, because honestly, I feel like this at least twice a day every day.) Erin Yun includes cultural references, particularly amazing food, and has a brilliant grasp of complex middle school relationships. Her characters are kids that readers know; that may be the kid reading this book. Kids separated from their parents and being raised by other family members; kids stressed about looking good in their friends’ eyes; kids trying to navigate friendship, growing up, and social status. It’s all real, and it’s all here. Here’s hoping we get more Pippa adventures.

Visit the Pippa Park webpage for downloadable resources, including an AAPI Guide and book club kit.

Pippa Park: Crush at First Sight is another slam dunk for Erin Yun. A great add to your shelves.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Finding comfort in the unthinkable: Morning Sun in Wuhan

Morning Sun in Wuhan, by Yin Chang Compestine, (Nov. 2022, Clarion Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780358572053

Ages 8-12

Award-winning kidlit, YA, and cookbook author Yin Chang Compestine brings readers into the heart of the COVID-19 pandemic’s early days in Wuhan, China. Mei is a 13-year-old girl grieving the loss of her mother and spending her days playing Chop Chop, an online cooking game. One of her friends asks for Mei’s help in getting medical attention for her ill grandmother, who can’t get a doctor’s appointment. Mei, whose father is a doctor at the local hospital, heads to the hospital when she can’t get in touch with her father, only to discover that the hospital is overcrowded, its staff stretched to their limits. Mei returns home and discovers, via the news, that a virus is spreading across Wuhan; determined to help her community, Mei turns to her friends to come up with a game plan: to turn her passion for cooking into a way to keep the people in her community fed.

Morning Sun in Wuhan gives readers a glimpse into the fear, uncertainty, and panic that COVID brought to Wuhan, but it’s ultimately an uplifting story of family and community.. Mei, grieving her mother’s death and feeling torn between her maternal aunt and her father, finds purpose in these early days. She uses the tools available to her: food, computer skills, and a talent for organizing, to bring her friends together to cook, pack, and deliver meals to the people in her neighborhood where the local services stumble. She is able to keep an eye and an ear on her neighbors, giving the elderly the comfort of knowing someone is there and cares.

Yin Chang Compestine’s writing brings the sights, scents, and sounds of Wuhan to readers, with rich descriptions of the historic and present-day city. Her cookbook authorship shines through in her mouth-watering descriptions of her food, and her characters come to life in her pages. Originally from Wuhan, Yin Chang Compestine’s Morning Sun in Wuhan is a love letter to the resilience of Wuhan’s people.

An incredible book that should make its way to current events reading lists. Keep your eyes on Yin Chang Compestine’s author webpage; many of her books have free downloadable resources available, and as the pub date for Wuhan gets closer, I expect we will see some good resources available.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Tween Reads

Author Q&A with Ripped Away’s Shirley Vernick

I recently posted about Shirley Vernick’s time-traveling thriller, Ripped Away. I enjoyed the book so much, that I wanted to know more! Author Shirley Vernick was kind enough to answer some questions; read and enjoy.

Ripped Away, by Shirley Vernick, (Feb. 2022, Fitzroy Books),
$15.95, ISBN: 9781646032037

Ages 10-14

MRI: Ripped Away is an incredible time-travel story and work of historical fiction! Can you tell me how you discovered that Jewish immigrants in London came under suspicion of being linked to – or being – Jack the Ripper? I feel like this is a big historical cover-up!

SV: To answer this question, I need to take you back (way back) to my student days, when history was presented to me as a string of loosely knit factoids. It was cold, impersonal, distant—and not much fun to read, research or write about.

Things changed, though, when, as a college sophomore, I serendipitously learned that Real History had happened in my own hometown, a remote village on the Canadian border. My sociology professor had sent us off for fall break with an assignment: identify a local conflict, past or present, and write a paper analyzing it. So I asked around and learned that an anti-Semitic incident called a blood libel had occurred in my town in the 1920s. A small Christian girl had disappeared (in truth, she’d only gotten lost while playing in the woods behind her house), and the local Jews were accused of murdering her and taking her blood for a ritual sacrifice. The whole Jewish community was targeted with interrogations, property searches, boycotts, and threats of physical harm. A few years after that, Hitler would use the blood libel as part of his attack on Jews.

Learning about the local blood libel was a turning point for me. It showed me that history is made of real, three-dimensional people, some of whom are a lot like me, others of whom are very different. It proved that seemingly isolated incidents are often part of a complex web of issues. And it demonstrated that the past ripples into the future, into the now.

I quickly became hooked on history-focused books, podcasts, magazines and websites. Years later, in one of the history sites I follow, I happened to read that London’s Jewish immigrants were suspected of producing Jack the Ripper. By that time, I was already a children’s novelist and knew that this would be the subject of my next book.

 

MRI: Will we see any more adventures with Abe and Mitzy? Or will Zinnia set up shop and send some other tweens on an adventure?

SV: What a great idea for a series! But while Abe, Mitzy and Zinnia live on in my mind, I don’t have a current plan for a sequel.

 

MRI: Related to that question, what other historical periods would you like to visit?

SV: My novel The Sky We Shared (Lee & Low Books), was released in June 2022. It takes place during WWII and is also based on true events, both in the U.S. and Japan.

Next, I’d love to write about the 2020s from the viewpoint of someone in the 2070s. I think it would be a great challenge –– and a blast –– to imagine how our “now” will seem to someone in 50 years.

 

MRI: What is your research process like when you’re writing? Any good tips for readers and future authors?

SV: When writing historical fiction, I immerse myself in the specific event of interest, as well as in the broader socioeconomics, culture and zeitgeist of that era. This entails doing a lot of one of my favorite activities: reading! Regarding the Ripper history specifically, I read newspaper reports from 1888 (the year of the Ripper), court documents, and diverse modern analyses of the crimes. To understand what it was like to live in the London tenements at the time, I used relevant books, government websites, museum information, and other resources. How much would a loaf of bread have cost in 1888? What were some common idioms people used? What was the outdoor market experience like?

My first piece of advice for future authors is: keep reading and learning! It’s the best way to discover amazing true stories, quirky historical figures, and fascinating subcultures to write about. My second suggestion is: find a way to make your research process fun. This can be as simple as reminding yourself that the research isn’t just the tired sandwich you must eat before you can have dessert. The research is a vital and potentially captivating dive into another time and place. And the more experience you get with it, the smoother and more pleasurable it will feel.

 

Thanks so much to Shirley Vernick for (virtually) sitting down and chatting with me!

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Exciting Afrofuturistic middle grade reading: Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun, by Tolá Okogwu, (June 2022, Margaret K. McElderry Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781665912617

Ages 8-12

Onyeka is a tween living in the UK with her mom. She’s got a thick head of hair that makes people stop, stare, and whisper, but her best friend, Cheyenne, couldn’t be bothered what other people think, which helps calm Onyeka’s anxiety. When the two head to the pool for some swimming, Cheyenne almost drowns, until Onyeka – or, is it Onyeka’s hair? – saves her. Everything moves quickly from here: Onyeka’s mother reveals that she is Solari, a secret group of people with unique powers, unique to their home in Nigeria. Her scientist father has disappeared while trying to research the Solari, and her mother brings Onyeka to Nigeria, to the Academy of the Sun, a special school – think the X-Men’s school run by Charles Xavier – for Solari, where they are trained to work with their powers. But nothing’s ever that easy; as Onyeka starts learning more about her family and the Rogues, a group of Solari working against the school, she and her new friends have to figure out where they stand.
Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is the first in a new series, written by British-Nigerian author Tolá Okogwu and inspired by a lack of representation in children’s books. The decision to empower Onyeka by channeling her power through her hair is a deliberate move, as she notes in her author’s note: “our hair has never just been hair… the lie we’ve all been fed that Afro textured hair is somehow inferior because it doesn’t conform to the Western standards of beauty”. Onyeka’s hair is incredible: it shields her; it saves Cheyenne’s life; it curls around her to comfort her. The characters are African; the Solari are all Nigerian, and the school is organized into different areas, according to student’s Ike – the Igbo word for “power”. The story moves at a brisk pace while still bringing these characters to life, fully-fleshed out with backstories and personalities. The students will empower and inspire readers, and the family relationships are beautifully realistic, with conflict and love often sharing the same space. A glossary of words and an explanation of Nigerian Pidgin English provides even further depth and educates readers. I can’t wait for the second book.
Give this to your Rick Riordan Presents fans; your Black Panther readers (not just the comics! Remember, Shuri and Black Panther have middle grade novels, and Okoye’s got a YA novel, too!), and your Tristan Strong readers. Give this to any of your readers who love reading about different cultures, and are always up for adventure. It’s awesome.

Onyeka and the Academy of the Sun is an Indie Next pick.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade

Coping with Loss: Burt’s Way Home

Burt’s Way Home, by John Martz, (July 2022, Tundra Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780735271029

Ages 6-9

Burt is an “intergalactic, transdimensional time traveler”. His parents, also time travelers, have been separated from him during a journey, and now he’s stuck on Earth, living with a woman named Lydia, until he can figure out the antiquated Earth technology and find his way home. Lydia, however, tells a very different story. A graphic novel created with two narratives, Burt’s Way Home is an aching look at a child in foster care, dealing with confusion and grief, and the caregiver who tirelessly works at understanding him, supporting him, and caring for him. Illustrated in two-color blue and white, with bold black outlines, John Martz creates an unfussy atmosphere that carries cartoon appeal while delivering a poignant message. This is a completely different story about grief and loss, and I want this in my collection first and foremost, for any child that may need it – for a child living in a foster situation, or for any children whose primary caregiver is not their parents: a grandparent, an aunt or uncle, an older sibling, a family friend – and to explain and engender empathy in others. Sensitive and respectful, this is a great book to have in your collections.

Burt’s Way Home was originally published in 2016 by Koyama Press.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

STEM Smart: Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad

Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad: Absolute Hero, by Valerie Tripp/Illustrated by Geneva Bowers, (Oct. 2021, National Geographic Kids), $7.99, ISBN: 9781426373039

Ages 8-12

Izzy Newton, Allie Einstein, and Charlie Darwin are best friends starting Atom Middle School together, when they discover that a friend of theirs who moved away is back! Marie Curie doesn’t seem as friendly as she was when the girls were besties, and she’s got a new friend, Gina Carver, who seems equally standoffish. When the air conditioner in their middle school shows no signs of letting up, the group have to put their science-loving brains to work to figure out how to keep themselves, and the rest of the school, out of deep freeze. Izzy and her friends are all named after scientific icons (you’ll learn more about them in the back matter), and each girl has an interest in an area of science similar to their namesakes. Middle-grade subjects like friendship and working out differences are familiar for readers, and the story examines how misunderstandings arise when people assume and don’t speak to one another. The air conditioning mystery is a science problem that needs to be solved; something the girls do through the scientific method, detailed throughout the story. The pace and dialogue are light and smart, and black and white illustrations run throughout. Back matter includes explanations of scientific terms and profiles of women scientists mentioned in the novel. Absolute Hero – a play on the scientific term “absolute zero” – is the first book in the Smart Squad series, with an additional novel, Newton’s Flaw, available now, and another, The Law of Cavities, coming in October. Visit the Smart Squad webpage for free, downloadable Readers and Educators Guides. Absolute Hero was originally published in hardcover in September 2020.

The S.M.A.R.T. Squad series is shaping up to be a fun STEM-related series for middle graders. Pair with Kate Biberdorf’s Kate the Chemist series.

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Middle School Twofer: Lightning Girl by Alesha Dixon

As I continue scaling Mount TBR, I’ve got a fun middle grade two-fer today: the first two books in the Lightning Girl series by British singer, dancer, and Britain’s Got Talent judge Alesha Dixon.

Lightning Girl, by Alesha Dixon & Katy Birchall/Illustrated by James Lancett (June 2020, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 9781684640782

Ages 8-12

Life isn’t always a breeze for 10-year-old Aurora Beam, a biracial British girl living in a UK suburb, but when she discovers that her hands light up, and that her mom is a secret superhero, things get even wilder! Aurora is descended from a long line of female superheroes, and her mom is delighted to start putting her through training exercises. But how can she keep this a secret from her best friend? And how can she navigate her parents’ separation, school life, and her morally ambiguous auntie while learning about her superpowers? Lightning Girl is absolute fun, using superpowers to communicate all the frustrations of being a tween: Aurora is coping with body changes, weird friendship dynamics, school drama, siblings, and parental ups and downs. The dialogue and action move quickly, and the characters are funny and relatable. Black and white illustrations throughout add to the fun. A great entry into a fun middle grade series.

 

Lightning Girl: Superhero Squad, by Alesha Dixon & Katy Birchall/Illustrated by James Lancett (Sept. 2020, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 9781684640799

Ages 8-12

Aurora, aka Lightning Girl, is back and so are her friends, The Bright Sparks! After the events of the first Lightning Girl adventure, Aurora is in high demand: she’s got appearances booked right and left, leaving her almost no time for herself – and the paparazzi is always there to capture her worst moments! Aurora and her family head off to a superhero convention, where she hopes to get away from it all for a little bit, but a crime is committed and all fingers seem to be pointing at her! Can Aurora and the Bright Sparks clear her name, and can she finally get away from the glare of the spotlight? Superhero Squad is Aurora’s second adventure, and takes on the havoc social media can wreak on a person’s reputation and psyche. You don’t need to be a superhero to be bullied on social media; Aurora trying to turn the tide of public opinion is a great discussion point for booktalking and book groups. Themes of friendship and family run strong in this story. Back matter includes stats on the newest members of the Bright Sparks. With a diverse cast and great storytelling, this is a great series to add to your shelves.

There are a total of five Lightning Girl books available.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: Swim Team

Swim Team, by Johnnie Christmas, (May 2022, HarperAlley), $12.99, ISBN: 9780063056763

Ages 8-12

Bree is starting her new middle school and can’t wait to select her electives. She’s got her eye on Math Club, but it’s closed out. In fact, everything is closed out of her time slot, except for Swim 101. Bree, afraid to swim, reluctantly takes the class, but tries to dodge it until she realizes that it will affect her grade point average. A mishap at her apartment complex leads her to Etta, an older woman who lives in the building, who also happens to be a former swim team captain from Bree’s school. As Etta trains Bree, she becomes a confident swimmer who gives the school team a chance at victory over rival Holyoke Prep. A strong subplot about Etta’s time in middle school delves into the history of segregation and public pools, and busts the “Black people don’t swim” myth wide open. Solidly constructed storytelling keeps readers invested and engaged; they’ll be white-knuckling the book and cheering Bree’s team, the Manatees, at every meet. A strong theme of social justice and change provides historical background and back matter includes resources for more reading. Talk this up with realistic fiction graphic novels like Jerry Craft’s New Kid and Class Act; Alyssa Bermudez’s Big Apple Diaries, and Gillian Goerz’s Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer. Put this book on your shelves!

Swim Team has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, School Library Journal, Kirkus, and BookPage; it’s also been selected for the Kids’ Indie Next List.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: All My Friends

All My Friends, by Hope Larson, (Jan. 2022, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9780374388669

Ages 10-14

Hope Larson’s third installment in Eagle Rock series keeps the momentum going. When we first met Hope’s main character, Bina, in 2018’s All Summer Long, she was a 13-year-old finding her way through music, and figuring out her evolving friendship with her bestie, Austin. Now, in All My Friends, Bina and her friends are in Fancy Pink, a band getting a lot of notice; she’s in a back-and-forth with her parents as she tries to take her band to the next level, and her parents worry about things moving too quickly, and she’s still figuring out relationships, whether it’s her strained relationship with Austin or how she feels about Cooper, the cute guy in a local band. The Eagle Rock books have captured big moments in a tween/teens’ life: relationships, dating, parents, and growing up. The characters have grown with each book, as Hope Larson’s audience is growing, keeping them invested in the stories of the Eagle Rock friends. Artwork in shades of pink, black, and white keep the focus on the story while using fonts to give the feeling of music moving through crowds. Whether she is weaving magical tales driven by a human story, or a character-driven story with a spark of magic (in this case, through music), Hope Larson always nails it.  A great third act for a popular series.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Intermediate, Middle Grade

What does the first cat in space eat? Pizza, of course!

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza, by Mac Barnett/Illustrated by Shawn Harris, (May 2022, Katherine Tegen Books), $15.99, ISBN: 9780063084087

Ages 7-12

Two award-winning kidlit powerhouses come together for a laugh-out-loud tale about a cat, a toenail-clipping robot, and a group of hungry rats posed to devour the moon. Rats from another galaxy are eating the moon! What is the Earth to do? Dispatch a cybernetically enhanced cat – First Cat – to take care of business. Accompanied by a stowaway robot who believes he’s destined for greater things than clipping toenails, and a ship’s computer who’s furious at being upstaged from a larger part in the story, First Cat lands on the moon, and the adventure begins: frozen wastelands, living forests, churning waters (Sea of Tranqulity? HA!) and dangers at every turn. There are repeating gags that get funnier with every utterance, and readers will giggle themselves silly as First Cat tries, time and again, to have a mouth-watering slice of pizza. Artwork is boldly outlined and colorful, hilariously communicating the madcap storytelling.

Did you know First Cat is Instagram famous? Kids can watch First Cat’s live adventures on Instagram or the First Cat webpage, where they can also sign up for the newsletter! The graphic novel includes sheet music and links to songs from the series. The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza is perfect for summer reading your readers will love.

The First Cat in Space Ate Pizza has a starred review from Publishers Weekly and is on the May/June 2022 Indie Next Kids List.