Belittled Women, by Amanda Sellett, (Nov. 2022, Clarion Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780358567356
Don’t ask Jo Porter how she feels about Little Women: she lives it. No, seriously. Her mother is a bit obsessed; not only did she name her three daughters Jo, Meg, and Bethamy (a mashup of Beth and Amy), and refer to herself as Marmee. Oh, and they play their namesakes in a running show called Little Women Live!, with school visits coming to watch the family act out – and put unique spins on – scenes from the Alcott classic. Jo is sick to death of it all, she’s constantly at odds with Amy, and Meg is just tuned out of everything. When a journalist and her son show up to write article about the Porter family, Jo is intrigued: the journalist asks pointed questions that get her thinking about life beyond home, and Hudson, the journalist’s son, is giving her signals. When Jo strikes out on her own and lands in New York on what she thinks is an invitation to stay with the journalist and learn from her, and pursue a relationship with Hudson, she learns that the grass ain’t always greener. Narrated by Jo, there are hilarious moments – the dialogue between Jo and Amy is particularly biting and witty – and moments that most teens will understand, like being frazzled by family relationships. You don’t need to read Alcott to read and enjoy Belittled Women. A good first purchase for teen collections.
Read Amanda Sellett’s laugh-out-loud Belittled Women FAQ on her author webpage.
Hope Wins: A Collection of Inspiring Stories for Young Readers, Edited by Dr. Rose Brock, (May 2022, Philomel Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780593463932
The last couple of years have been really hard for kids. Hope Wins is a collection of personal stories from some of the best-known names in kidlit – R.L. Stine; Christina Soontornvat, and Tom Angleberger, to name just a few – on overcoming adversity and embracing hope. Dr. Rose Brock, co-founder of the North Texas Teen Book Festival, brings together 22 authors to tell their stories, and every reader will find something – someone – to speak to them here. Origami Yoda series author Tom Angleberger writes about discovering his place on the autism spectrum in “Major Malfunction”; Black Panther author and Coretta Scott King/John Steptoe Award winner Ronald L. Smith writes about the new world waiting for him when he got glasses in “The Boy in the Back of the Class”; Newbery Medalist Christina Soontornvat describes the grace of going high when others go low in “Everything I Need to Know I Learned in a Thai Restaurant”. Readers will love the feeling of being invited into each author’s life, of seeing these writers as children. Vashti Harrison’s gorgeous cover features a young brown-skinned girl holding aloft a banner with the title, Hope Wins; the authors selected are diverse and offer a wide worldview. An excellent choice for readers: if you haven’t purchased a copy yet, now is the time. Booktalk these stories with your readers and familiarize yourself with them. After two years of strife, we all need a little extra hope. Hope Wins is the middle grade companion to Dr. Brock’s 2019 YA anthology, Hope Nation: YA Authors Share Moments of Personal Inspiration.
Raising the Horseman, by Serena Valentino, (Sept. 2022, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781368054614
The Disney Villains series is one of series I can’t keep on my teen shelves. My library teens devour them and they devour the Disney Twisted Tales series faster than authors can write them, which goes to show you can’t go wrong with the classics, especially when there’s a fun change-up. Serena Valentino, author of the Disney Villains series, takes on the Headless Horseman and the legend of Sleepy Hollow in her newest book, Raising the Horseman. Kat Van Tassel is the latest in a long line of Katrina Van Tassels; the famed heroine of Sleepy Hollow was her many times great-grandmother and every woman in her line has been named for her. She’s straining against that legacy, though: she wants to leave and go to college; she doesn’t want to get married and stay in Sleepy Hollow like every other Katrina, despite her mother’s gentle pushing her toward the very thing. Kat finds herself captivated by a new girl in town just as she’s drifting further apart from her boyfriend, Blake: Isadora Crow challenges Kat to see Blake and his gaslighting behavior and to consider a life beyond expectation. As the 200th anniversary of the Headless Horseman’s rise approaches, Kat’s mother gives her Original Katrina’s diary, and Kat begins unraveling the secrets held within. What really happened that night, so long ago? Valentino gives readers a fun, female-forward twist on the classic spooky story, a smart, bisexual heroine who knows there’s more to life than reliving a legend, and a warning about toxic relationships. There are moments where the story struggles with repetition, but the action is fast-paced and the developing relationship between Kat and Isadora, plus the deftly placed twist in the original Sleepy Hollow story, make this worth the time.
Bottom line? You can’t go wrong with Disney YA. A good purchase.
Frizzy, by Claribel A. Ortega/Illustrated by Rose Bousamra, (Oct. 2022, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250259639
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.
Nina Soni, Master of the Garden, by Kashmina Sheth/Illustrated by Jenn Kocsmiersky, (Apr. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 9781682632260
Join me in my never-ending quest to read down the TBR while I also keep up with up-and-coming kidlit! Today’s pick is the third book in the Nina Soni series: Master of the Garden. I love reading about Nina, her younger sister Kavita, and her best friend Jay. This time out, Nina, Kavita, and Jay learn how to plan out a garden, courtesy of Nina’s landscape architect Mom, for Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day. They all love the idea of growing their own food, but Nina thinks bigger than that: she wants to grow so much that she can sell the extra vegetables and make money! The only thing she doesn’t plan for? The work it takes to make a garden successful: weeding, pest control, and harvesting, for starters. Kavita thinks that her singing will help the plants grow even bigger, but Nina’s not too sure about that – it’s driving her crazy! Sheth makes Nina very relatable and very likable, with a determination that underlies everything she does and an imagination that keeps moving her forward. Black and white illustrations and Nina’s famous checklists add context and interest. Nina and her family are Indian-American; each story is filled with cultural touches that provide texture to these rich, fun stories. A fun intermediate series that belongs on shelves.
Visit Kashmira Sheth’s webpage for a downloadable discussion guide to the series, and more information about the Nina Soni books.
Leo’s Map of Monsters: The Armored Goretusk, by Kris Humphrey/Illustrated by Pete Williamson, (Aug. 2022, Kane Miller), $5.99, ISBN: 9781684644858
Set in a fantasy world where kids receive apprentice Assignments at the age of 9, Leo wakes up on the morning of his ninth birthday and discovers that he’s been given a Top Secret Assignment! The Village Chief appears and whisks Leo off to the curmudgeonly Guardian, who keeps everyone safe from the monsters that lurk in the forest outside the village walls. He hands Leo a map, some magical stones, and a slingshot, and sends him off on his first mission: to draw the Armored Goretusk away from the village. Black and white fantasy artwork with an Edward Gorey-bent features on almost every page; antiquing elements give the appearance of reading an ancient tome. The adventure is light and fun, with a buddy-cop partnership between Leo and Starla, one of the forest residents; the promise of more fantastic beasts to come will keep readers coming back. A map lets readers follow Leo’s adventures; back matter includes stats and descriptions of the creatures he encounters in this first book and a look at the different stones he uses. This one is a fun fantasy series to add to your chapter book/intermediate shelves.
Originally published in the U.K. in 2020, The Armored Goretusk is the first in the Leo’s Map of Monsters series. All four books are available in the States and fantasy fans will want them all, posthaste!
Surely Surely Marisol Rainey, by Erin Entrada Kelly, (Aug. 2022, Greenwillow Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062970459
Marisol Rainey is a middle grader with a little bit of an anxiety issue, introduced in Maybe Maybe Marisol Rainey earlier this year. Her dad works on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico, and she lives at home in Louisiana with her mom, older brother, and cat. This time out, Marisol is nervous when she her gym teacher introduces a unit on kickball: Marisol does NOT like kickball! She works on being brave, but it’s so hard, especially when classmate Evie, who is “an expert at throwing invisible darts at Marisol’s feelings”, is excellent at kickball. Newbery Medalist Kelly creates approachable, likable characters in her stories; Marisol and her best friend, Jada, are characters with depth that readers will see themselves in. Illustrations on almost every page make this a great book to move up from early chapter books and easy readers. Marisol is biracial; her mother is Filipino. Jada is brown-skinned with curly hair.
Surely Surely Marisol Rainey has a starred review from Horn Book. Visit author Erin Entrada Kelly’s webpage for resources on her books.
Wait Till Helen Comes Graphic Novel, by Mary Downing Hahn/Illustrated by Meredith Laxton, (Sept. 2022, Clarion Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780358536895
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.
Fenris and Mott, by Greg van Eekhout, (Aug. 2022, HarperCollins), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062970633
Greg van Eekhout’s latest novel is an hilariously adorable spin on Norse mythology starring a tween girl in need of a friend and an adorable dog who is much more than he seems. Mott is a 12-year-old root beer enthusiast, transplanted from Pennyslvania to California, and missing her best friend. She discovers an abandoned puppy in a recycling bin and promises to keep him safe, not realizing that she’s just sworn to protect Fenris, the Norse mythological wolf who will devour the moon, eat Asgardian god Odin, and move the events of Ragnarök – Doomsday – into motion. Aided by a Valkyrie in training, with a supporting cast of Norse gods, Fenris & Mott has laugh-out-loud humor, great dialogue and action, and characters readers will cheer for. Fenris is adorable enough to have readers coo every time he “mweeps”, and will stop readers in their tracks when he opens his gaping maw to devour Viking warriors and moving vehicles. Rick Riordan fans will love this new take on Norse mythology, filled with modern takes on ancient stories. Supporting cast is largely white and Nordic, and Mott is Indonesian and Dutch, and is picture on the cover as a brown-skinned girl. Nonstop action, characters with heart and devotion, and unbearably cute moments with a fluffy puppy make this an essential addition to your fiction collections.
Fenris & Mott has a starred review from Booklist. Visit Greg van Eekhout’s author page for more information about his books and appearances.
Ride On, by Faith Erin Hicks, (Aug. 2022, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250772824
Eisner Award winner Faith Erin Hicks is back with a new graphic novel! Ride On hits on all the things my middle graders love to read about: horses, friendship, and a challenging situation. Twelve-year-old equestrienne Victoria arrives at Edgewood Stables after a break from riding following a fallout with her former best friend, Victoria. She initially brushes off attempts at friendship from Norrie, one of the other students, but finds common ground in a science fiction TV show fandom and eventually lets her guard down and befriends Norrie and her friends, Hazel and Sam (the only boy at the school). When the Edgewood riders are invited to a competition at Waverly, Victoria realizes that she will have to face her former best friend.
Faith Erin Hicks masterfully creates characters and situations that speak to readers. Whether they’re new students at a boarding school (A Year at Ellesmere), a street urchin living in a city overrun by invaders (The Nameless City), or a homeschooled teen confronting a ghost (Friends with Boys), she has the ability to weave the fantastic with the everyday and create special people. Every character in Ride On is someone worth knowing, including Quinn, the newest horse in the Edgewood stable. From Norrie’s hilariously drama queen personality to Victoria’s initially brusque, withdrawn temperament, and Sam’s “bro-dude” older brothers, readers will see themselves and people they know in Ride On. She understands how fandom breaks through walls and unites people – for good! – and deftly uses that understanding to give us a wonderful subplot. Hicks’s illustration is realistic and soft, approachable. An author’s note provides more context for the story. An absolute must-buy for graphic novel collections.
Ride On has starred reviews from Booklist, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal. Visit Faith Erin Hicks’s website for more about her work and to read her webcomics.