While You Were Dreaming, by Alisha Rai, (March 2023, Quill Tree Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9780063083967
Best-selling romance author Alisha Rai released her debut YA novel, While You Were Dreaming, and it is so good! Sonia is a teen living with her undocumented sister, Kareena, after her mother is deported. Sonia lives in constant fear of her family’s circumstances being discovered, and she tries to make herself as invisible as possible. One day, when her crush, James, accidentally falls and is in danger of drowning, Sonia – in cosplay superhero costume – jumps in to rescue him, becoming a viral sensation. At the same time, Sonia ends up connecting with James’s family, who don’t realize that she’s the person who rescued their son. So is James crush-worthy, or are the sparks flying between Sonia and James’s older brother worth exploring? Readers who love Ms. Marvel and Sendhya Menon’s rom-coms will devour this delightful read. Sonia is a smart, relatable main character surrounded by an interesting, developed cast. Rai touches on the stresses of living undocumented in America by exploring Sonia and Kareena’s sometimes contentious relationship and through Sonia’s desire to remain invisible for her sister’s sake; the pain of living apart from her mother comes through loud and clear. Hand this one to your rom-com fans for sure; they will thank you for it.
The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt, (March 2023, Blackstone Publishing), $18.99, ISBN: 9781665047036
An anthology that puts the science in science fiction, The Hitherto Secret Experiments of Marie Curie brings together 20 stories by standout names – Jane Yolen, Scott Sigler, and Jonathan Maberry, to name a few – who spin dark stories about Nobel Prize winning physicist Marie Curie. Driven largely by the childhood losses of her mother and sister, the stories and poetry in Hitherto dream of scenarios that formed Curie. Set in her young adolescence, there are dark tales, supernatural tales, and straight-up unnerving tales, with several mainstays: Curie’s break with religion, the Russian occupation of her beloved Poland, and her dedication to science and learning. Stories are rooted in science, and many include Science Notes to clarify the divergence of fact and fiction. Run from the whimsical, like Alethea Kontis’s “Marya’s Monster”, where Curie confronts the literal monster under her bed with level-headedness, to the bittersweet, as with Seanan McGuire’s “Uncrowned Kings”, where Curie battles the disease-carrying beast that’s infected her town. Stories like Henry Herz’s “Cheating Death” take a turn into horror, where Curie’s obsession with halting Death leads her to disturbing experimentation, and Christine Taylor-Butler’s “Retribution” is a science murder mystery (minus the mystery).
Every single story here is an excellent read, with something for dark fantasy, horror, and thriller fans alike. Science fans will rejoice at having Marie Curie front and center in her own adventures (I know I did), and resources for further reading keeps the momentum going, with books about Curie, women in STEM, and websites to explore. An excellent choice for YA collections.
Anaïs Aubanel is a 17-year-old member of a prominent Proensan family liviing in the Ivarean kingdom. Her people have been outsiders, considered the backwoods magic users of the kingdom, since the Ivareans colonized them, but her family presses her to make a good marriage match, bringing her to the royal anniversary ball to scope out her chances. At the stroke of midnight, bombs go off, killing everyone at the ball – and then Anaïs awakens in her own bed, sure it was a dream… until it happens again. Over the course of the novel, Anaïs must reconstruct each day and figure out how to stop the carnage before it begins; in doing so, she uncovers a nefarious plot with an unlikely puppetmaster pulling the strings. A rich fantasy, Shahnaz explores colonization and the intertwining roots of magic and faith. Anaïs is a character readers will cheer on; the supporting characters become more real with each moment revisited. A good choice for fantasy readers.
Shakti Girls: Poems of Inspiring Women, by Shetal Shah/Illustrated by Kavita Rajput, (March 2023, Shakti Girls LLC), $17.99, ISBN: 9798986954509
Shakti is the Hindu word that refers “to the [female] power and energy that creates and maintains the universe”. Inspired by the concept of shakti, Shetal Shah created 13 poems about groundbreaking, inspiring Indian women. Women like author Jhumpa Lahiri, of whom Shah writes “Nilanjana, meaning ‘one with blue eyes’, / merges two worlds on the page (though it’s hard in real life” and freedom fighter Kasturba Gandhi, who Shah praises by writing “Inspired satyagraha (fair advocacy), / she resisted with peace and equality”. Shah includes arts and sciences, politics and sports, to spotlight how Indian women have been changemakers in every area: actress Mindy Kaling shares space with tennis star Sania Mirza, mathematician Shakuntala Devi, and former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. Full-page colorful illustrations bring these outstanding women to life for readers, and each portrait includes fun details that readers are invited to find. There is new vocabulary to discover, with new words defined on each page. Back matter includes a page for readers to illustrate their own shakti and a word search – if you’re putting this into circulation, photocopy these pages and have some ready to hand out. Visit Shetal Shah’s webpage for additional downloadable activities. A nice new voice with an interesting collection of poems, this is an additional purchase for strong biography collections.
Dungeons & Dragons: Dungeon Club: Roll Call, Molly Knox Ostertag/Illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, (Nov. 2022, HarperAlley), $19.99, ISBN: 9780063039247
This graphic novel is just what I needed to booktalk D&D to my Corona Kids! Combining D&D fantasy roleplaying with fantasy storytelling, Roll Call is the first in a new series, written by the amazing Molly Knox Ostertag and illustrated by Xanthe Bouma, who illustrates the 5 Worlds series – another series I can’t keep on my shelves. Olivia and Jess are best friends who make up incredible stories: it’s how they met on a school playground, and it’s brought them even closer in their 2-person Dungeons & Dragons campaign. They’re heading to middle school, which Olivia is really excited about. Jess? Not so much, especially when Olivia decides to expand their D&D campaign into a full-on school club. Not willing to share her game time and her best friend with anyone, Jess expresses her frustration through the game, and when it affects one of the new members of the club, Jess discovers that sometimes, you need to find room in your heart – and in your dungeon-raiding party – for new friends.
Ostertag’s got storytelling down, effortlessly moving back and forth between fantasy and reality. I’m excited for more backstory as the series develops; Jess is Diné from the Navajo Nation, living with her father, and playing a character named Sir Corius. Olivia is Afro-Latina, sporting hot-pink hair and can effortlessly rattle off character and monster stats, several of which are incorporated into the story; it gives readers a sense of game play. Having story characters create genderfluid, speciesfluid characters is wonderful, inviting readers to see what so many of us have known for a while: you don’t have to conform to any gender in the game. It says so in the Player’s Handbook! Bouma’s vibrant illustration creates personable characters and exciting fantasy settings. The whole story comes together beautifully and is an excellent choice for readers who are interested in gaming, fantasy, and realistic fiction. Display and booktalk these with any of your fantasy roleplaying graphic novels, like 5 Worlds and Dragon Prince; The Witch Boy; Popular MMOs and Dan TDM, and the Dungeon Academy middle grade novel series by Madeline Roux.
There’s a new batch of DC original graphic novels coming up, and trust and believe these will be on my shelves (and if my Kiddo has anything to say about it, my home shelves are included).
Shazam! Thundercrack, by Yehudi Mercado, (Feb. 2023, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 9781779505026
Yehudi Mercado is the perfect author/illustrator to bring this fun Shazam tale to comic book life. Beginning with Billy Batson’s arrival at his new foster family home and bonding with his new foster brother, Freddy, the main plot kicks in pretty quickly: as Billy and Freddy tests the limits of Billy’s power when he’s Shazam, they realize that even when he’s in Billy’s form, he’s got some power moves – and that leads him to join the school football team. The only thing is, Billy isn’t much of a team player. He just doesn’t have that kind of trust in others, so when the chips are down for the team, why should Billy come through? Maybe because a rival school is using biotech experimentation that makes them very, very dangerous? Maybe because Billy’s foster dad drops some wisdom on Billy? Thundercrack is fun, easy reading that captures the light spirit of the 2019 movie (and the upcoming movie, Fury of the Gods). Mercado is at the top of his game when he’s writing everyday family comedy that balances with a pathos that understands each character’s backstory. Having the story take place within the DCU timeline has a nice link for readers who are versed in the cinematic universe; Freddy is a strong Number 1 to Billy and has his own spirited journey in the story, with vlog entries and commentary running through the story. Add this one to your middle grade graphic novel collections – kids aren’t getting nearly enough Shazam! in their comic book diets.
Bruce Wayne: Not Super, by Stuart Gibbs/Illustrated by Berat Pekmezci, (March 2023, DC Comics), $12.99, ISBN: 9781779507679
Another middle grade luminary takes the reins for this Bruce Wayne-Before-Batman story. Batman: Not Super is all about Bruce Wayne, who attends a super-special school. No, really, all the students have superpowers except for Bruce, who’s only there because his parents paid for the school to be built before they passed away. He’s rubbing shoulders with superhero elite here, but he’s not the most popular kid in school; he hangs out with an 11-year-old named Dick Grayson, whose gymnastic abilities got him into the school. He’s bullied by Clark Kent, who uses his x-ray vision to see through Bruce’s clothes and tell everyone what underwear he’s wearing that day. Things change when bully Jack Napier steals Dick’s ice cream money, though: Bruce has found his mission, and it’s to be a vigilante! Now, to just figure out how to get around his guardian, Alfred, who won’t let Bruce undertake any dangerous missions. Even when Dick overhears Jack telling Bane that they’re going to rob all the lockers while everyone is at the big game. Fast-paced dialogue and swiftly moving action come together with jokes and humor. Pekmezci’s artwork is a feast for superhero-loving eyes as the DC Middle School Universe unfolds in front of them: Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy are canoodling by the lockers; Penguin and Selina Kyle are here; Arthur Curry is more AquaKid than Aquaman, but he’s talking to the fish in the school fish tank, and Wonder Girl Donna Troy is Diana Prince’s younger sister. Sharp-eyed comics fans will catch some deep cuts, like Polka Dot Man, and comics fans of a *cough* certain age will appreciate the Bat Shark Repellent joke that finds its way into most Bat-humor. Bruce Wayne: Not Super is another home run for middle graders. Put this one on your shelves.
Teen Titans: Robin, by Kami Garcia/Illustrated by Gabriel Picolo, (March 2023, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779512246
The third in the Teen Titans series from Kami Garcia and Gabriel Picolo, Teen Titans: Robin is the fourth Teen Titans story that includes Raven, Beast Boy, and Beast Boy Loves Raven. Joined by Damian Wayne and Max Navarro, the group is on the run from Slade Wilson and H.I.V.E.; Dick Grayson leaves Gotham to find his younger brother, Damian. Damian resists getting to know his adopted brother, feeling like his father, Bruce, attempted to replace him, but Grayson just wants to get to know his brother and keep him and his friends safe. With equal emphasis on character growth, developing relationships, and action, this is a great addition to the series. Picolo does so much storytelling through his color changes and shading; he takes each color that readers and viewers familiar with the Titans will recognize and makes them part of the story, leaving Slade Wilson’s story gray and desolate. This one’s for the middle and high schoolers, but upper grade elementary schoolers may be interested, too.
I’ve been such a fan of these YA and middle grade books since they launched a few years ago. By bringing original graphic novels to kids and finding authors and illustrators that are standout names, they’re investing brand new generations of readers into comics and graphic novels.
Ben Y and The Ghost in the Machine: The Kids Under the Stairs, by KA Holt, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452183213
The second Kids Under the Stairs book puts Ben Y on center stage: Ben Y, Benita, whose older brother, Benito, helped create Sandbox and communicated with her via Sandbox chat. and whose recent sudden death has her reeling. She still logs into chat to talk to him, but one night, someone responds. Who knows about Benito’s and Ben Y’s secret chat? Grief and recovery are major plot drivers in Ben Y and the Ghost in the Machine, and equally strong subplots about gender identity, dress coding, and journalism drive this brilliant story. Ben Y narrates most of the story, with appearances from the other Kids Under the Stairs: BenBee, Jordan, Javier, and Ms. J, the lovable teacher-turned-librarian who runs the “Newspaper Typing Club”, the new name for the Sandbox club. The introduction of a new character, Ace, keeps the narrative even more interesting and adds a drop of conflict. The story narrative pairs with Sandbox interactions to keep readers engaged. Ben Y’s writing is in verse, with other character interactions emphasized with italics and written in straight prose. Chat room interactions are presented as block text interactions and set off with black-framed pages. The Kids Under the Stairs is an excellent series that examines issues facing tweens and young teens and features brilliant portrayals of neurodiverse people. Download a free teacher guide to the book at Chronicle’s book detail page.
Ben Y and The Ghost in the Machine has a starred review from Kirkus.
Jordan J and the Truth About Jordan J:The Kids Under the Stairs, by KA Holt, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452183213
It’s Jordan’s turn, and I am psyched! Jordan’s energy and honest enthusiasm made this my favorite book in the Kids Under the Stairs series so far. Jordan loves a competitive dance show, Fierce Across America; as such, he obsessively talks about it and even writes a column about it in the school newspaper – it doesn’t go well, because Jordan is a little too honest in his opinions about the school’s dance team and where they stand in reference to Fierce Across America hosts and dancers. Things change when Fierce Across America tryouts come to the Kids’ town in Florida, and Casey Price – one of Jordan’s schoolmates – asks him to choreograph a winning routine to advance her through the competition. Subplots on Jordan and Javier connecting through an art class and family financial stress meet many readers where they’re at, addressing issues that they can understand and work through. Jordan’s voice is exuberant and sweet, hesitant and apologetic, as he navigates situations; storytelling takes place in Sandbox chat rooms, through notes drawn on artwork from the “old lady art class” Jordan and Javier take together, school newspapers, Jordan’s notes to his therapist, and Jordan’s own storytelling. Boo-yah!
A heart-pounding final showdown changes the life of Cruz Coronado forever in the seventh and final book in this thrilling fact-based fiction series.
Amid assignments that take the Explorer Academy recruits from the iceberg-filled waters of Antarctica to the bone-dry deserts of Argentina, Cruz Coronado is scrambling to complete the last piece of the cipher. With Nebula agents and the elusive explorer spy still out there, his opportunity to recover his mother’s world-changing formula is slipping away. But as Cruz has learned from his time aboard Orion, true explorers must never give up.
Even after completing dozens of high-risk missions and traveling to all seven continents, Cruz could never prepare himself for one ultimate surprise.
Explorer Academy features: Gripping fact-based fiction plot that inspires curiosity with new technology and innovations; amazing inventions and gadgets; a cast of diverse, relatable characters; secret clues, codes, and ciphers to track down within the text; vibrant illustrations; elements of STEAM; National Geographic explorer profiles in the "Truth Behind" section.
Check out the Explorer Academy website featuring videos, comic shorts, games, profiles of real-life National Geographic Explorers, chapter excerpts and more.
"Sure to appeal to kids who love code cracking and mysteries with cutting-edge technology."
"A perfect blend of adventure with real science and technology!"
—New York Times #1 best-selling author Rick Riordan
"A fun, exciting, and action-packed ride that kids will love."
—J.J. Abrams, director and screenwriter of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Lost, Alias
"Inspires the next generation of curious kids to go out into our world and discover something unexpected.”
—James Cameron, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence and acclaimed film-maker
TRUDI TRUEIT has written more than 100 books for young readers, both fiction and nonfiction. Her love of writing began in fourth grade, when she wrote, directed, and starred in her first play. She went on to be a TV news reporter and weather forecaster, but she knew her calling was in writing. Trueit is a gifted storyteller for middle-grade audiences, and her fiction novels include The Sister Solution, Stealing Popular, and the Secrets of a Lab Rat series. Her expertise in kids nonfiction encompasses books on history, weather, wildlife, and earth science. She is the author of all the narratives in the Explorer Academy series, beginning with Explorer Academy: The Nebula Secret. Trueit was born and raised in the Pacific Northwest, and lives in Everett, Washington.
Three (3) winners will receive the COMPLETE 7-book Explorer Academy series and an Explorer Academy map, showing all the places around the world that Cruz and his classmates visit over the course of the series!
The LEGO Engineer, by Jeff Friesen, (Nov. 2022, No Starch Press), $24.99, ISBN: 9781718502505
I am always looking for good LEGO books for my library. We have a weekly LEGO build that the kids love, and I like to make sure I have books around that will inspire them. Jeff Friesen is always a good purchase for me: I’ve got The LEGO Castle Book and LEGO Space Projects and they are chock full of block-spiration. Friesen’s newest, The LEGO Engineer, is another win; this time, taking on some of the most incredible engineering feats ever created, including cable-stayed bridges and a LEGO South Beach, in all its colorful glory. There are over 30 models, all beautifully photographed by Friesen, and include step-by-step illustrated instructions and a wealth of engineering know-how to make your builds as realistic as can be. It’s a beautiful coffee table book for LEGO enthusiasts and it’s a challenging book of ideas for LEGO fans and future engineers. An excellent choice for collections where LEGO books are popular.
Dressing Up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer Edith Head, by Jeanne Walker Harvey/Illustrated by Diana Toledano , (Sept. 2022, Beach Lane Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781534451056
Famed costume designer Edith Head may be a new name to many younger readers, but Harvey and Toledano’s story about the little girl who grew up dressing up her pets for tea parties and creating dollhouse furniture from scraps will appeal to readers with a creative bent. The story follows Head from her childhood in a Nevada mining town to her move to Los Angeles, where she lost herself in the magic of movies; from her beginnings as a sketch artist who didn’t know how to draw, to her rise as the definitive Hollywood costume designer, Dressing Up the Stars focuses on Head’s resolute determination to create her own movie magic. Back matter includes an author’s note on Edith Head’s life and career. Mixed media artwork creates a variety of textures, and colorful illustration stands out against the pale backgrounds, much like Edith Head, who famously dressed in grays, whites, and blacks so that “the movie stars could imagine themselves in their roles”. A very good addition to picture book biography collections. If you have maker programming at your library or in your classroom, Dressing Up the Stars is an especially essential purchase for your collection.
Jeanne Walker Harvey has had many jobs, ranging from working as a roller coaster ride operator to an attorney for high-tech companies to a writer of magazine articles to a teacher of Language Arts and writing workshops at a public middle school. She has also been a longtime docent at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. She is the author of several books for young readers, including the picture book biographies Dressing up the Stars: The Story of Movie Costume Designer EdithHead, Ablaze with Color: A Story of Painter Alma Thomas,Maya Lin: Artist-Architect of Light and Lines and My Hands Sing the Blues: Romare Bearden’s Childhood Journey. Jeanne studied literature and psychology at Stanford University. She lives in Northern California. Visit her online at www.jeanneharvey.com.
Check out the many resources here at Jeanne Walker Harvey’s website!
Diana Toledano is the illustrator of picture books including One Snowy Day by Diana Murray and the Polly Diamond series by Alice Kuipers. She grew up in Spain and now lives in Sacramento with her husband and their young daughter. Learn more at Diana-Toledano.com.