Posted in Fiction, Horror, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

A middle grade horror classic gets a graphic novel retelling: Wait Till Helen Comes

Wait Till Helen Comes Graphic Novel, by Mary Downing Hahn/Illustrated by Meredith Laxton, (Sept. 2022, Clarion Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780358536895

Ages 8-12

A classic work of children’s horror gets its day in graphic novel form.  Siblings Molly and Michael have tried time and again to bridge the divide between them and their 7-year-old stepsister, Heather, but Heather only seems to want to make their lives miserable. She lies to get them in trouble, she spurns any overtures from Molly, Michael, and their mother, and wants 100% of her father’s time. When the family relocates to an old church with a graveyard in back and sets up residence, things become even worse: Heather claims to have made a new friend: Helen, the ghost of a girl who died in a fire years ago, and who will make Molly and Michael pay when she comes. Wait Till Helen Comes is a chilling ghost story that receives an equally chilling graphic adaptation, with creepy imagery and a chilling blue and purple palette. Meredith Laxton maintains the spooky atmosphere that Hahn masterfully creates with her words. Characters are realistically human, all presenting as white.

With the current trend of popular novels being adapted into graphic novels, Wait till Helen Comes Home is about to reach even more readers. A great add to graphic novel collections.

Written in 1986, Wait till Helen Comes has won multiple awards and garnered a 2016 film adaptation.

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, Historical Fiction, Science Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Traveling through Time via my TBR: Ripped Away by Shirley Vernick

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

Ages 10-14

Abe Pearlman is a kid that who’s a bit of a loner. He’s got a kinda-sorta crush on his classmate, Mitzy Singer, but he doesn’t think she really notices he’s alive. When Abe spots a new fortune teller shop in his neighborhood, he goes in, figuring it’s worth a shot. Zinnia, the fortune teller, tells him he can save a life, and Abe leaves, only to discover that he’s not in his neighborhood anymore: he’s somehow been transported back in time to the slums of Victorian-era London, England! He’s now working as an assistant to a jewelry salesman named Mr. Diemschutz, living with his mom in a tenement apartment, and discovers that Mitzy has been sent back in time, too. She and her mother are living with her deceased father’s brother, in the same tenement building as Abe, and Mitzy is blind. Both were given cryptic clues by Zinnia, and now they have to figure out how to get back to their own place and time… but they also have to try and figure out how their fortunes are connected to Jack the Ripper, who’s on the loose in their neighborhood, and they have to survive the hatred directed toward Jewish refugees, already being accused to stealing jobs and housing from the English, and now being accused of possibly counting The Ripper among their community. Inspired by true events, Ripped Away is a great time-traveling story with a strong historical fiction backbone. Characters are realistic and have strong personalities that extend beyond the main plot; the author brings the history of anti-Semitism in Victorian Europe, particularly in the Jack the Ripper case, to light, and there are great points for further discussion throughout the story, including comparing and constrasting the plights of refugees, anti-Semitism, and family structures, from Victorian England (and further back!) through the present day. Back matter includes an author’s note that touches on the Victorian England, Jack the Ripper, and the anti-Jewish sentiment that gave rise harmful theories about the killer’s identity. An excellent read.

The Forward has an interesting article on Jack Ripper and anti-Semitic hysteria.

Shirley Vernick is an award-winning author. Visit her website for more information about her books and to follow her on social media.

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

Tales from the TBR: Danny Chung Sums it Up

Danny Chung Sums it Up, by Maisie Chan/Illustrated by Natelle Quek, (Sept. 2021, Amulet), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4197-4821-9

Ages 8-12

Eleven-year-old Danny Chung loves to draw, but his parents, especially his Ba, want him to pay more attention to school – especially math. His parents, who run a Chinese food takeaway in their British suburb, are all about “the Chinese Way” and adhering to those traditional Chinese values they grew up with. It doesn’t help when family friend Aunt Yee, who loves to stick her nose into Danny’s family business and provide uninvited commentary, is always around to compare Danny to her oh-so-perfect daughter. When Danny’s Nai Nai – his father’s mother – arrives from China to live with them, Danny is frustrated: he’s never met her; since he doesn’t speak her dialect, he can’t really communicate with her, and she’s staying in his room! She’s also showing up all over his neighborhood, including at his school, trying to make a connection with him but instead, opening him up to even more teasing from his classmates. As Nai Nai becomes a more permanent fixture in his life, though, Danny finds himself warming to his grandmother, and math ends up being a bridge between the two. Maisie Chan weaves a funny, loving story that spans generations and cultures in a way so many readers will recognize. Danny’s drawings fill the story, giving readers a good chuckle over his “Ant Gran” comics and his unique spin on events. Covering family pressure, friendship’s ups and downs, racism, and the journey of a relationship between a grandparent and grandchild, Danny Chung is on my booktalk list for sure. Pair with intergenerational stories like Lily LaMotte’s Measuring Up, Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s When I Hit the Road, and Donna Gephart’s Death by Toilet Paper. You can also booktalk and display with other authors of Asian heritage for Asian-American and Pacific Islander month in May, including Kelly Yang, Jen Wang, Christina Matula, and Lisa Yee.

Visit Maisie Chan’s webpage to find out more about the first Danny Chung book, Danny Chung Does Not Do Maths, and get free downloadable resources for both books! Visit illustrator Natelle Quek’s webpage to see more of her illustration work.

Check out Maisie Chan as she talks about the inspiration for Danny Chung Sums it Up here!

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade

The Great TBR Readdown: Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Perfection

Ben Yokoyama and the Cookie of Perfection (Cookie Chronicles, Vol. 3), by Matthew Swanson/Illustrated by Robbi Behr, (Dec. 2021, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593302774

Ages 8-12

Ben Yokoyama is not having a good day. So far, the 9-year-old’s mom has burned his pancakes and his dad ruined his jersey in the laundry. It doesn’t get much better at school until he sees a chance to make a new friend. Darby is a kid who excels in math, and lets Ben in on a little secret: he’s got a super secret alter ego named Darbino. Darby’s quest to become perfect gave birth to Darbino’s identity, and he offers to help Ben attain perfection, too. At first it sounds great, but when you’re working at being perfect, Ben realizes that you have to give up a lot: baseball, for instance. As Ben starts to realize that being perfect isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, he takes readers on a hilarious, very sweet, journey, illustrated in black and white, as if readers are peeking through a journal. This is the third Cookie Chronicle, with two more coming, and it’s a great series to booktalk to your Timmy Failure, Big Nate, Wimpy Kid, and Alvin Ho fans. Ben is biracial and there are nice multicultural nods to his American and Japanese heritage, including a look at the Japanese concept of kintsugi, the art of repairing broken pottery with gold seams, highlighting the mistakes and making them beautiful. Now that we’re in testing season (at least, we are here in NYC), kids will really appreciate the book’s take on the pressure to be perfect. Back matter includes a history of the fortune cookie.

Visit Matthew Benson and Robbi Behr’s webpage for more about their books (including the other Cookie Chronicles), and loads of fun, free printables.

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

Wave: A girl rides life’s ebbs and flows

Wave, by Diana Farid/Illustrated by Kris Goto, (March 2022, Cameron Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781951836580

Ages 10-14

Ava is a 13-year-old Persian-American girl who loves to surf, hang out with her friends, and read poetry by Rumi. She’s about to graduate eighth grade and looks forward to the summer until her mother, a prominent doctor, signs her up to volunteer at the hospital, in hopes that Ava will be inspired to follow a career in medicine. Frustrated by her distant father and her mother’s expectations, Ava’s world begins to fall apart when Phoenix’s – her best friend – cancer returns. Ava processes her feelings and emotions through the music of the ’80s, and the story, told by Ava in the first person through free verse, is a heart-breaking, resonant, gorgeous story. Blackwork illustrations throughout present Wave as a peek into Ava’s journal, making the experience of reading it personal. Ava experiences racism, grief and loss, anxiety, and frustration and communicates it all through spare, lyrical verse; readers will see themselves and their friends in her words. Set in the mid-1980s, music and mixtapes are wonderful touchstones, particularly through the music and mixtapes; references to the 1970s Iranian cultural revolution provide historical context and make Ava, her mother, and her extended family fully realized characters.  Ask your readers to create their own Spotify playlists that they’d share with a friend or family member. Ava’s and Phoenix’s mixtapes are included in the back matter, as are endnotes, information about Rumi, and lyrics. A gorgeous book.

Have a copy of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis available to booktalk to readers interested in learning more about the Iranian revolution and its impact on the women of Iran. Visit author Diana Farid’s webpage for more information about her books, her poetry, and essays.

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

New school, new country, new beginnings: The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei

The Not-So-Uniform Life of Holly-Mei, by Christina Matula, (April 2022, Inkyard Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781335424884

Ages 8-12

Holly-Mei Jones is a middle schooler who jumps at the chance for a new beginning when her mom announces that an exciting promotion comes with a major move: from their home in Canada to Hong Kong! But, as her ah-ma (grandmother) says, the bitter comes first, and then the sweet. Holly discovers that her new life in Hong Kong is not without its pressures: her mother’s new position comes with expectations and rules, and the most popular girl in her class is bossy and can be nice one minute, horribly mean the next. Determined to to get to the sweet part of her new life, Holly-Mei discovers that she has a lot to learn.

Holly-Mei has a big heart and a strong sense of justice which gets her into trouble and makes her such a lovable character. Kids will read all about her new life in Hong Kong with excitement and wonder – it’s like Crazy Rich Asians for kids! – and realize that in life, you have to weather the storms, no matter where you are, as they see Holly-Mei buckle under her mother’s shift into a more appearance and behavior-driven mindset. Supporting characters are there to move Holly’s story along, but have their own definitive personalities. Gemma, popular girl and Holly-Mei’s frenemy, has an interesting backstory that gives texture to her actions.

A compulsively readable book about middle school, rich with Chinese culture and likable characters, humor, and genuine feeling. Put this on your Newbery watch lists.

Posted in Middle School, mythology, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Mythic Gifting: Across the Rainbow Bridge

Across the Rainbow Bridge: Stories of Norse Gods and Humans, by Kevin Crossley-Holland/Illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love, (Dec. 2021, Candlewick Studio), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536217711

Ages 10+

Here’s another great gift idea / end of year budget purchase for your collections. Do you have Percy Jackson/Magnus Chase/mythology fans in your circle, whether in work or life? Know a teen who devoured Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, or a tween who loves Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants? This is the book to have on hand when they ask what to read next. Across the Rainbow Bridge is a companion to 2017’s Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki, and includes five more stories from a master storyteller and artist. Loki matches wits with a troll in “The Troll and the Trickster”;  a miserly ghost isn’t ready to let go of his money just yet in Skarp’s Ghost; a girl named Inga catches the goddess Frigg’s attention in “Blue of Blue”; Odin goes wandering yet again in “Your Life or My Life”, and “The Gift of Poetry” is bestowed on a young boy… but nothing comes without strings attached. Jeffrey Alan Love’s moody, stark two-color illustrations make brilliant use of shadows and contrast, adding to the mythic storytelling. A must for your mythology collections.

Kevin Crossley-Holland is a Carnegie Medal–winning author with a gift for myth and legend. Other retellings include Between Worlds: Folktales of Britain and Ireland, illustrated by Frances Castle, and Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki, illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love, among many others. Jeffrey Alan Love is a Kate Greenway Award nominee (for Across the Rainbow Bridge) and received the 2019 Dutch Zilveren Penseel (Silver Brush) Award for Norse Myths: Tales of Odin, Thor, and Loki by Kevin Crossley-Holland, the 2017 World Fantasy Award for Best Artist, and the 2018 British Fantasy Award for Best Artist.

Across the Rainbow Bridge: Stories of Norse Gods and Humans has starred reviews from Booklist, School Library Connection, Kirkus, and The Horn Book.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Tween Reads

Marshmallow & Jordan is a gentle friendship story

Marshmallow & Jordan, by Alina Chau, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781250300607

Ages 8-12

Set in Indonesia, Marhsmallow & Jordan is a story of friendship and finding one’s own way. Jordan is a middle schooler who loves basketball: even an accident that put her in a wheelchair can’t stop her, mostly. She can’t compete with the team like she used to, but still serves as captain. She’s feeling a bit unfulfilled, when she rescues a hurt white baby elephant that she promptly names Marshmallow. The two new friends quickly become attached. Meanwhile, Jordan’s basketball coach recommends she try out for water polo after Marshmallow digs Jordan a pool, letting her take to the water without worrying about her wheelchair weighing her down. The training isn’t easy, but Marshmallow’s loving support and her own determination keeps Jordan focused on practice and success. But Marshmallow is hiding a secret of her own. Rich with warm colors and Indonesian culture and a diverse group of characters, Marshmallow & Jordan is a great middle grade story that works as a book club pick and a realistic fiction piece. Back matter includes a glossary of Indonesian terms, an author’s note, Indonesian facts, and food recommendations.

Visit Alina Chau’s author website for more information about her books, to sign up for her newsletter, and connect to her social media. Read an interview with Alina Chau at SLJ’s Good Comics for Kids, TeachersPayTeachers has free Indonesian activities, including an animal word search from Teach With Mrs. T’s Class and a map of Indonedia from The Harstad Collection. Britannica for Kids has information about water polo.