Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

New LEGO Mindstorms books from No Starch Press!

If you have tinkerers or a robotics league in your community, you may already be familiar with No Starch Press and their solid LEGO Mindstorms catalog. I’m a No Starch fan and regularly buy their computing books for both my kids and adult collections, but their Mindstorms books really are worthy of their own shout-out. I’ve used them in my own library when I had a robotics league, and they were a tremendous help to me and my team as we navigated getting the machines built and running. There are two new Mindstorms books coming out that are worth a look for your shelves.

Getting Started with LEGO® MINDSTORMS: Learn the Basics of Building and Programming Robots, by Barbara Bratzel & Rob Torok, (Oct. 2022, No Starch Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781718502420

Ages 12+

Anyone embarking on LEGO Mindstorms robotics will find Getting Started with LEGO Mindstorms an essential reference to have on hand. Written with a friendly, easy-to-follow voice, the book provides information you and your readers will need to build your first robot, work with the Mindstorms app, and troubleshoot and refine your robots as you go. The book covers sensors, remote control, sound, light, and movement. Are you new to programming? The book introduces readers to Word Blocks, a visual programming language based on Scratch and is very user-friendly. If you’ve never delved into robotics, DON’T PANIC: this is a supremely intuitive guide that’s meant to foster an interest in programming, building, and working with LEGO Mindstorms robots. You and your readers are safe in Barbara Bratzel’s and Rob Torok’s capable hands.

 

Mastering LEGO® MINDSTORMS: Build Better Robots with Python and Word Blocks, by Barbara Bratzel & Rob Torok, (Oct. 2022, No Starch Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781718503144

Ages 12+

You want your readers to expand their expertise on LEGO Mindstorms. Mastering LEGO Mindstorms will get them there. Moving up from basic Word Blocks programming, Mastering LEGO Mindstorms expands robotics builders’ skills by introducing Python language programming, letting users write text-based code. There’s still how-tos on designing and building, with expanded programming techniques to encourage the casual builder to grow their schools and move toward more sophisticated robotics engineering. There are chapters on gears and mechanisms, moving gyro sensors, and games and “Ultimate Challenges” to test your engineers’ mettle. Photos are incredibly helpful and the informative text is as supportive as it is educational. Bratzel is an elementary school STEM educator and Torok is a secondary STEM educator; both are Mindstorms educators who explain robotics in a way that respects the reader while challenging them.

Getting Started with LEGO® MINDSTORMS and Mastering LEGO® MINDSTORMS are excellent additions to your STEM/STEAM collections. If you have robotics leagues or maker labs in your community, they are essential. 

Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Tween Reads

Underwear can kill you and other Fake News!

Killer Underwear Invasion: How to Spot Fake News, Disinformation & Conspiracy Theories, by Elise Gravel, (Sept. 2022, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781797214917

Ages 8-12

Beneath the giggles – and there are many – lies a smart and frank discussion about fake news and disinformation. Elise Gravel breaks it down for middle graders in this graphic novel treatise on responsibly consuming media, with hilarious yet sobering examples. Gravel places fake news in an historical context by starting with a town crier announcing that “an evil magician has turned the king into a goat” and uses examples of politicians, puppy-pinching, and medicinal shampoo consumption to illustrate concepts like clickbait, conspiracy theories, and viral news stories. Her trademark colorful blob creatures lead readers through laugh-out-loud scenarios presenting readers with the whys, hows, and consequences of fake news. Gravel provides straightforward guidelines for readers to follow: thinking critically; checking sources and how to find reliable sources; separating fact from opinion, and more. An excellent introduction to being a smart media observer for middle graders and middle schoolers. A first purchase.

Get a free downloadable teacher’s guide on Chronicle’s Killer Underwear book detail page, and visit Elise Gravel’s webpage for free downloadables – her latest on Peer Review is a perfect accompaniment to Killer Underwear – and blog entries.

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

Frizzy unleashes curly hair power!

Frizzy, by Claribel A. Ortega/Illustrated by Rose Bousamra, (Oct. 2022, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250259639

Ages 8-12

Marlene is a tween who loves her books, her supercool Tía Ruby, and her best friend, Camila. What she doesn’t love? Her mother’s insistence on “growing up” and having “good hair”, which means Marlene is spending every weekend in the salon having her hair straightened. She hates every bit of it, and wishes she could have curly hair like her Tía, or like one of her favorite characters, Dulce Maria from Super Amigas; then, she wouldn’t be teased or forced into a hellish hair straightening torture session. Tía Ruby and Camila both come together to help Marlene appreciate and care for her beautiful hair – and Marlene and her mom have deep conversations about self-esteem and value. Ortega examines cultural attitudes, grief, and self-worth with a plot that reveals itself as the story moves along, keeping readers invested with every page. Marlene is a lovable character that readers will cheer for as she – and her hair – come into their own. Tía Ruby is a bright spark who shows Marlene the key to self-acceptance and hair care. Rose Bousamra’s realistic illustration work is filled with rich color and Afro-Latinx characters. A first-purchase that so many readers need.

Frizzy has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, and Publishers Weekly.

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

Speak Up! channels inner strength and confidence

Speak Up!, by Rebecca Burgess, (Aug. 2022, Quill Tree Press), $13.99, ISBN: 9780063081192

Ages 8-12

Middle schooler Mia is autistic and bullied by other kids at school, but when she and her best friend, Charlie, get together after school, they make musical magic together, posting videos where Mia is singer Elle-Q, accompanied by Charlie’s musical talent. If only Mia’s bullies knew that the singer they’re obsessed with is the same girl they laugh at for being “weird”, maybe they’d be singing a different tune. Mia and Charlie have differences of opinion when he pushes for the duo to appear in the local talent show: Mia is nervous afraid people will laugh at her for “stimming” – the self-stimulating behaviors triggered by stress or anxiety – and Charlie feels that Mia’s reluctance to appear will squash his chance to get notice for his music. Meanwhile, Mia’s mom seems to be completely clueless on how her daughter really feels, pushing her toward ways to “be normal” and “fit in”. Mia learns to advocate for herself in this graphic novel that’s sure to keep tweens and young teens turning pages. Speak Up! is a study in self-advocacy and an inspiring story about being true to onesself, with tween-friendly cartoon-realistic artwork that will draw readers who love Raina Telgemeier, Kayla Miller, and Terri Libenson. An excellent choice for graphic novel collections and a strong addition to the growing canon of books about autistic tweens living and thriving. Mia is white and Charlie is brown-skinned, uses “they/them” pronouns, and presents as nonbinary.

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, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Middle School, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Graphic Novels Bonanza Begins with Button Pusher!

Button Pusher, by Tyler Page, (Apr. 2022, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250758330

Ages 10-14

What did I do on vacation? I read books and played tabletop games! Starting off my graphic novel bonanza is Button Pusher, Eisner-nominated cartoonist Tyler Page’s memoir of living with ADHD. Tyler begins as a rambunctious 8-year-old who can be the class clown or lose track of a lesson as the teacher is speaking. He cuts up a school bus seat but doesn’t really know why he did it, when asked. His teachers think he just likes to be a troublemaker, but that isn’t it, and his mother takes him to the doctor to find out what’s going on, leading to his ADHD – attention deficit hyperactivity disorder – diagnosis. While the memoir centers on Page’s ADHD, and how he moves toward functioning with (and without) medication and treatment, the story also revolves around his school and home life, including the troubled relationship between his parents and his father’s own undiagnosed neurodivergence. The story is incredibly readable and offers sensitive portrayals of Tyler Page and his mother, who works toward understanding and helping her son while in a difficult marriage. Page also touches on male adolescent anxiety, particularly Tyler’s body image issues when he realizes that the medication is contributing to weight gain. Back matter includes an author’s note, samples of Page’s childhood art, and his working process. An informative and outstanding introduction for middle graders to understanding ADHD.

Button Pusher has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist.

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 Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

The Epic Mentor Guide: Smart advice for young women, from women who’ve been there

The Epic Mentor Guide: Insider Advice for Girls Eyeing the Workforce from 180 Boss Women Who Know, by Illana Raia, (March 2022, Forefront Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781637630495

10-18

Imagine being a high school or college student and having access to a think tank of successful women. What would you want them to tell you? Illana Raia, founder of the mentorship platform Être, has taken note of questions that young women have asked and gotten answers, all collected here. Whether it’s asking about successful traits or resilience when someone refuses to get your name right; how engineering can get you a job at LEGO, or being the first attorney at Etsy, tweens and teens will find answers here. The women are a diverse group, chosen from all areas: sports, technology, medicine, finance, entertainment, and more. Celebrities like Tyra Banks and Hoda Kotb are in here, as are brand executives from Nike, Spotify, and Disney. The questions run from getting noticed by college admissions and what makes a standout LinkedIn profile to diversity and inclusion, how to break into an industry, and when to be patient versus when to push forward.  The design is eye-catching, with bright orange pages breaking up the white spaces; answers are thoughtful and run from sound-bite briefs to longer, thought-out responses. Most respondents include social media information, for readers to follow. A good choice for career collections and guidance collections.

 

Check out this interview with author Illana Raia, courtesy of BooksForward!

  • Who were your mentors? 

I’ve been so fortunate to have tremendous mentors throughout my career! My grandmother graduated from law school in 1936, and watching her in court when I was young made me sure I wanted law school. Professors I had at Smith College and The University of Chicago Law School lit the way forward, and my first mentor when I practiced mergers & acquisitions was the youngest partner my law firm had ever made. But the women I have met since founding Être, leaders in their fields and founders in every sense of the word, have mentored me in ways I can never repay.

  • What inspired you to start Être, and how did this book come about?

When I was practicing law and my daughter was in middle school, I realized she did not know what I did every day. More than that, she did not know what my group of ridiculously accomplished friends did every day! I started Être (which, in French, means to be), to bring young girls face to face with inspiring role models. This book came about after we started being invited into companies to meet female leaders. I was blown away by the questions the girls were asking! Moreover, the women we met answered every question with such candor, wit and wisdom that all I could think was Every girl should be doing this. So I kept a list of questions asked at company visits, and then added a survey and an email Q&A, asking girls across the globe what they wanted to know about the work world. What happened next was astounding. As fast as the questions came in I started reaching out to women in the relevant companies or industries – and their answers did not disappoint! Over the course of the next year, a virtual conversation ensued between girls eyeing the workforce and the women already there.

  • What types of questions did you get from today’s girls?

The questions we received were substantive and specific in nature: How can I become an animator at Pixar? Can TikTok be used for networking? How did you land an interview with SpaceX? Do cover letters even matter? Am I allowed to ask about inclusion in an interview? What’s one thing no one knows about working at Google?  I think the authenticity of the questions was a huge reason these women answered; they remembered what it felt like on their first day at work, and told us repeatedly I wish I’d had this when I was starting out!

  • What are some of your favorite pieces of advice in the book?

I love how TheSkimm founders, Carly Zakin and Danielle Weisberg talked about avoiding the trap of expectations, and hearing about what astronauts like Anna Fisher (the first mom in space), Cady Coleman and Jennifer Scott Williams want today’s girls in STEM to remember. I loved reading that celebrity make-up artist Steph Aiello was encouraged by Tyra Banks to pursue her dream despite a physical disability, in part because Tyra Banks is also in the book (talking about why we should over-prepare for meetings)! The idea that even the mentors have mentors thrilled me. I was moved by what icons like Lilly Ledbetter said about salary negotiations, what Sudi Green said about getting a sketch on SNL and what Dawn Porter said about leaving the law to make movies with Oprah. Every time I flip the book open, I find a new favorite!

  • How does “The Epic Mentor Guide” build a pipeline for girls into the workforce?

The book is building a pipeline by following the same model I used to build Être – we go where the girls ask to go, so they can find answers to their questions. The companies in this book represent brands the girls already love, platforms they use constantly, and organizations where they see themselves working someday. Add to that the fact that every woman in the book offered her preferred social media handle so girls can follow her in real time and in real life. When an exec at LinkedIn said connect with me, or a pop musician wrote DM me or a federal judge gave girls her email, I knew that we were creating more than a static collection of mentor advice. This is a pipeline that will grow with today’s girls.

Posted in Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Great TBR Read-Down: The Other Half of Happy by Rebecca Balcárcel

The Other Half of Happy, by Rebecca Balcárcel, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781797213910

Ages 10-12

Seventh-grader Quijana is half-Guatemalan and half-American, but has always identified more with her American half. She never learned Spanish; something she didn’t think about until her Guatemalan relatives move to her family’s Texas town, and when Latinx kids at her new middle school call her an imposter or “coconut” – white on the inside – for having a Latinx name but not embracing the heritage. Her father wants to take the family – Quijana, her parents, and her 3-year-old brother, Memito – to Guatemala over winter break but Quijana has no interest in going and plans to take a bus to Florida to spend time with her mother’s mother, who’s undergoing cancer treatment. She plans to raise the money for the bus ticket by selling a traditional Guatemalan garment, a huipil, gifted by her father’s mother. Narrated in the first person by Quijana, The Other Half of Happy examines identity, first crushes, friendship, and family relationships. Quijana’s biracial identity clearly comes through as the story develops, and the characters are all multidimensional, realized people. Rebecca Balcárcel makes Quijana incredibly believable: she’s taking on an incredible amount of stress on the home front, while working through school relationships and discovering herself. Introspective and always honest, The Other Half of Happy is a brilliant book about cultural identity and being a tween. Back matter includes quotes from Quijana’s grandmother, from Don Quixote, poems, a game, and notes from Quijana’s grandmother’s science notebook; there’s also a discussion guide. Consider this one for your Oceans of Possibilities book lists and discussion groups.

The Other Half of Happy has starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal. Visit Rebecca Balcárcel’s author webpage to sign up for a newsletter and to learn more about her books.

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

Alone in the Woods – a survival story for tweens

Alone in the Woods, by Rebecca Behrens, (Oct. 2020, Sourcebooks for Young Readers), $7.99, ISBN: 9781728231013

Ages 8-12

The TBR readdown continues with Alone in the Woods, which I’ve been trying to get to for ages. I loved Rebecca Behrens’s 2019 novel, The Disaster Days, and Alone in the Woods is solid proof that this is the author to read if survival stories are your thing.

Joss and Alex have been best friends forever, but their relationship is at a turning point this summer. Alex befriends Laura, one of the school Mean Girls, while at summer camp, and comes home a different person. She found another friend who likes clothes, shopping, mani-pedis, and makeup; Joss, who still loves her Lupine Lovers wolf sweatshirt and isn’t as concerned with having the latest clothes, can’t understand what happened to her best friend. When their families head to their annual joint family vacation in Wisconsin’s Northwoods, the tension between the girls is palpable, and comes to a head during a rafting trip on Wolf River that leaves them separated from their families and their shared inner tube torn. As the girls try to find their way back to their families, they discover that they’re lost in the woods, and woefully unprepared.

The story uses two first-person narratives, shifting from Joss’s present-day recounting to Alex’s memories that lead up to the schism between the former friends. Rebecca Behrens has a gift for putting her characters in perilous situation and finding the people at the heart of the danger. The woods, the danger, the hunger, is all a backdrop for the heart of the story, which is the broken relationship between two friends and how it got that way. Joss and Alex have to navigate their feelings and simmering issues with each other, which can be just as fraught as being lost in the woods. The girls are foils for one another, providing strengths and weaknesses that play off each other and add to both the conflict and the resolution. Give this to your survival and adventure readers, and point them to Rebecca Behrens’s author webpage, where you can resources for all of her books, including Alone in the Woods.