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

Welcome to Your Period! A welcome wagon for pre-teens and young teens

Welcome To Your Period!, by Yumi Stynes & Dr. Melissa Kang/Illustrated by Jenny Latham, (Jan. 2021, Walker Books US), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536214765

Ages 10-16

An inclusive, illustrated guide to getting your period from a award-winning podcaster and writer and a celebrated doctor whose medical column ran for more than two decades in a popular teen magazine? Yes, please! Welcome To Your Period!, by Yumi Stynes and Dr. Melissa Kang, is a straight-talk, friend-to-friend, guide to navigating your period and all the weird, messy, moody, and snacky feelings it brings. It’s loaded with case studies and first-person accounts, with a folx from a variety of ages chiming in on their experiences. Topics covered include packing a period pack (let’s hear it for emergency chocolate!), how to deal with cramps, different choices in supplies, how to tackle period challenges like school, sports, and sleepovers, and how to support your friends! I love that the authors talk about throwing first-period parties for friends and the importance of sharing. It’s a really stressful moment when you look in that go-bag and realize there’s nothing there, but a perfect stranger that’s willing to help you out can go a long way. The illustrations are fun, positive, and inclusive, as is the language used throughout the book. Medical illustrations provide a road map to our bodies, and the authors encourage us to take a look down there for ourselves and get to know what’s what. There are points on menstrual equity, what to do when you aren’t able to talk to your parents, and advocating for yourself. Have a teacher who doesn’t want to let you get up to go to the bathroom? You assert yourself and tell them you need to go and why! There’s nothing to be embarrassed about here, and that’s the main point the authors and illustrator communicate here. This is a natural, normal part of nature, and nothing to be hidden away and ashamed of. Non-binary and transgender teens will find support here, too; the authors address how frightening and stressful puberty can be, and the importance of finding both a doctor and an adult you can trust and talk to regarding period options. A glossary provides helpful terms to “expand your period vocabulary” and a list of resources gives teens social media accounts, podcasts, apps, advocacy, phone numbers to have handy for reference. Display this with graphic novel hit Go With the Flow and support your tweens and teens. If you have the budget and are in an area in need, have some period packs available so your teens can come to you: you can be that trusted adult.

Published in Australia in 2018, Welcome to Your Period arrives on US shelves this month.

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

Things That Surprise You is touching, funny… giggles and tissues needed!

Things That Surprise You, by Jennifer Maschari, (Aug. 2017, Balzer + Bray), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062438928

Recommended for readers 10-13

Best friends Emily and Hazel are about to start middle school. They’ve done just about everything together, and Emily just wants things to stay the same. You can’t blame Emily; she’s had too much change over the last year, with her parents’ divorce and her sister , Mina, being treated for an eating disorder. But Hazel is changing. She’s already in with a new crowd at school – a crowd that isn’t into Emily at all – and she wants to be different. While Emily is still into their fandom, The Unicorn Chronicles, and crafting, Hazel is into lip gloss, clothes, and getting boys at school to notice her.

Things That Surprise You is a compulsively readable novel about growing up and moving on; negotiating change; making new friends, and most importantly, discovering oneself. Emily is so likable, you just want to defend her and comfort her. Older sister Mina is on her own painful journey; she could easily have become a bitter antagonist, but is written with care and compassion that will encourage readers to root for her, too. Their mother is doing the best she can with what she has, and their father just can’t cope, so he doesn’t. Each parent’s actions illustrate to kids that adults may not have all the answers, and that we make lousy decisions, too. I enjoyed reading about every character in this book, including the mean girls, who are vapid and awful and make us want to see Emily succeed even more.

This is a great book for discussion groups, because the subplots that support the main plot are all worthy discussion topics on their own: going with or against the crowd, eating disorders, self-acceptance, and navigating family relationships are just some of the things that come up. I’d love to see this on summer reading lists for next year. Nudge, nudge, teachers!

Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price and Things That Surprise You. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, and to download a free guide, visit Jennifer’s author website.


One lucky winner will receive a copy of Things That Surprise You… PLUS, one grand prize winner will receive their very own Crafty Unicorn Kit! The prize includes a fun craft kit, a copy of Things That Surprise You, unicorn stickers, and puzzle cards! Enter here – don’t miss out!

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, geek, Humor, Middle Grade, Puberty, Tween Reads

Win at Life! Insert Coin to Continue

insert-coinInsert Coin to Continue, by John David Anderson, (Sept. 2016, Aladdin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781481447041

Recommended for ages 9-13

Bryan Biggins is a middle school kid who’s obsessed with his favorite video game, Sovereign of Darkness, and obsessed with finding the secret advanced level of play once he beats the game. Time and again. His friends try to tell him to give it up, but Bryan’s not having it; sure enough, one night, he thinks he’s accessed the secret level, but the game just shuts off. When he wakes up the next morning, he’s discovered that his life is the new level! He’s got stats, and more importantly, he gains and loses HP (health points, hit points). People at school are talking to him weirdly, like the teacher that sends him on a quest to get a Twinkie from the teacher’s lounge, past a group of dieting teachers. What happens if all his hit points are used up – or worse, if he runs out of coins to continue? Is this the way the rest of his life is going to go?

This is one of those books that’s too much fun to read and booktalk. A kid wakes up living his own videogame, but the videogame is life as we know it? That’s perfect class trip or reading group discussion material! Bryan is EveryKid, and his friends are fun, along for the ride. Bryan is center stage here, and that’s just fine, because he’s a funny, upbeat narrator that readers will like going on the adventure with. Give this to your gamers, display with C.J. Farley’s Game World, and the insane amount of Minecraft fiction that’s out there.

Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Avenging the Owl takes on big tween themes

avenging-the-owlAvenging the Owl, by Melissa Hart, (Apr. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $15.99, ISBN: 9781634501477

Recommended for ages 9-13

Solo Hahn (his mom is a huge Star Wars fan) is a tween having a heck of a time. Not so long ago, in a galaxy not terribly far away – although it may seem that way – he had a great life: home in Redondo Beach, California; surfing with his buddies and loving his life; his mom loved her job as a professor, and his dad drew comics for a living. But things have changed; his dad has moved them to a trailer on a patch of land in Oregon, his mom has all gone vegetarian, crunchy granola on him, and his father is a shadow of the man he once was. The only thing Solo still had to hold onto was the kitten he found on the property as they were moving in; and then, an owl swooped in and took that away from him, too. Solo wanted revenge, but now he’s been labeled an “at-risk youth” and is doing community service at a raptor rescue center, where he’s taking care of the very types of birds that took his kitten from him.

Avenging the Owl is a great realistic fiction novel that tackles depression and suicide, and the toll it takes on a child when it happens to a parent. Even greater is the frustration of being a kid and having no control over anything in your life. Solo’s parents upend his life without any consideration as to its effect on him, and then voice frustration with him. It’s a valid, real portrait of adolescence, where kids’ independence are ultimately subject to their guardians’ plans.

There are good supporting characters in Avenging the Owl, including Solo’s group at the raptor rescue and Eric, Solo’s neighbor and friend. The story is a voyage of self-discovery for Solo, who emerges a different person than he was going into the story. He develops a relationship with Eric, a teen with Down Syndrome, initially at his mother’s behest but ultimately, develops genuine admiration and feeling for him. He learns to accept that Nature is not always fair. He learns to love his parents again, and just as important, they learn to see Solo for who he is. The thread running quietly through the novel about conservation and preservation is a great discussion theme for reading and discussion groups.

I enjoyed this book, and will add it to my realistic fiction collection. My middle graders enjoy animal fiction and often need to read realistic fiction for school, so this brings their two worlds together in a powerful way. Check out a great interview with author Melissa Hart on the From the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog for some more insights.

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

Realistic Fiction that works: Still a Work in Progress

still-a-work-in-progressStill a Work in Progress, by Jo Knowles, (Aug. 2016, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763672171

Recommended for ages 9-13

Noah’s trying to make it through seventh grade: his friends are weirding out, girls are weird, and his home life… don’t ask. His older sister, Emma, has been acting strange again. Her increasingly difficult food demands are driving Noah crazy – he really doesn’t like seitan; he just wants a burger – and she’s doing things like wearing lots of bulky clothing layers, moving her food around the plate without actually taking a bite, and arguing with everyone. Just like she did when The Thing They Don’t Talk About began last time. Noah’s only solace these days seems to be in the art room, where he can express himself without stress.

Still a Work in Progress is one of those great middle grade books that tackles tough issues within the framework of every day life: meaning, there’s a lot of laughter, a lot of confusion, and some pain. Overall, the book, narrated by Noah, is hilarious. The dialogue between him and his friends sounds like things I’d overhear my kids talking and arguing about, and Jo Knowles really captures Noah’s inner dialogue beautifully: the mixture of anger and concern for his sister, in particular. Ms. Knowles gives readers a realistic novel that brings together school life, home life, friend life (any kid will tell you friends are a separate sphere), and the frustration of moving through these areas while in the pull of something much, much bigger than you. I also loved the real star of the book: a hairless cat named Curly, who lives at the school and hangs out with the kids (Curly’s on the cover of the book, so you know this is an important cat.)

Great middle grade novel for realistic fiction readers. There’s always a call for good, realistic fiction in my library, so this one will get a good booktalk. Check out Jo Knowles’ author website for a link to the book’s Pinterest page and downloadable discussion guide.

Want more? Here’s Jo Knowles talking about the inspiration behind Still a Work in Progress.

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

The Dorks are back! Pack of Dorks goes to Camp!

camp dorkPack of Dorks: Camp Dork, by Beth Vrabel (May 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781634501811

Recommended for ages 8-12

Lucy and her friends are back in the sequel to Pack of Dorks! The school year is done, and Lucy and her pack are headed to camp: Camp Paleo, where the group gets to live like cavemen for the next week. Because Sheldon thought it would be a cool idea. Sam backs out at the last minute to go to a gymnastics training camp, but Lucy’s grandma comes along for the summer, working as a lunch lady at the techy camp next door. Camp Paleo is decidedly not techy. The campers dig for fossils, learn archery, and have really, really cold, showers with bugs for company. Mr. Bosserman, the camp leader, is a grumpy old man, and Lucy feels her pack falling apart as the week progresses. Lucy’s got to look at some of her own choices and own up to things she’s said and done before she finds herself on the outs for good.

Camp Dork is a solid sequel to Pack of Dorks, which was brilliant in its depiction of a group of tweens coming together to embrace the things that made them unique. They owned their Dork label at school, but sometimes, you don’t want to be a label: you want to be a person, and you don’t want to be fettered by a word that supposedly describes all that you are. It’s something Lucy has to learn, and it’s something that readers are learning, right along with her. Camp Dork explores how people – especially tweens, but even adults – are perceived by different people, at different times, in different situations.

Camp Dork is a great summer read for tweens who are at the same point in their lives: discovering who they are, cultivating different interests and new friends, and maybe, fighting a little bit of change in their lives. If you loved Pack of Dorks, don’t miss Camp Dork. If you didn’t read Pack of Dorks, no worries – there’s enough exposition in Camp Dork to catch you up without you feeling lost.

I love the way Beth Vrabel writes. The dialogue just flows, and it’s at once loaded with inner frustration, wit and sarcasm, and honesty. I just saw on her website that another of her books that I really enjoyed, Blind Guide to Stinkville, has a sequel coming out this Fall, so I’ll be all over it.

There’s a really good librarian-created discussion guide to Pack of Dorks on Beth Vrabel’s website, which makes me feel like I need to start coming up with these things for all the books I read.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Kill the Boy Band takes aim at fandom

boyybandKill the Boy Band, by Goldy Moldavsky, (Feb. 2016, Point), $17.99, ISBN: 9780545867474

Recommended for ages 14+

Four super fangirls stalk their boyband favorites with disastrous results in this insanely funny dark comedy.

The Ruperts are the boy band of the moment, and our narrator – who takes on the names of ’80s teen movie heroines – and her three (mainly online) friends have a plan to be near them, securing a room in the same hotel as the boys. When one of the girls encounters her favorite Rupert (they all have the same first name) at the ice machine, she overreacts and the girls find themselves with an unconscious boy bander in their hotel suite. And things get crazier from there. Each girl has a different agenda, and before the day is over, there are going to be some ugly revelations and even uglier circumstances.

Kill the Boy Band is at once a laugh-out loud black comedy in the vein of Pulp Fiction and Fargo and a scathing look at fandom and fangirl culture. Ms. Moldavsky takes aim at the culture that expects us to destroy our idols, even as we worship them. She looks at the long-established culture of loathing popstar girlfriends, celebrity stalking, and what happens when you find out that the man behind the curtain really isn’t Oz at all.

As a Duranie who was a teenager during the social media-bereft ’80s, Kill the Boy Band made me laugh and cringe, often at the same time. With boy band and fandom culture at an all-time frenzy now, teens will recognize themselves (hopefully, not too much) or laugh in recognition of someone they know. There’s a great whodunit that will keep readers guessing until the very last page – and maybe even after. You’ll laugh, and you’ll think – it’s a great book to have a discussion group with.

Great addition to collections with a thriving teen population that’s plugged in. This should be a good summer read. For older teens, consider introducing them to Pamela Des Barres’ I’m With the Band for a look at pre-online fandom culture.

Kill the Boy Band has been selected as an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.

Posted in Fiction, Humor, Puberty, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

The Incredible Three and A Half Superheroes is a silly superhero story… kinda.

titaah_superheroes_side_crThe Incredible Three and a Half Superheroes, by Frank Schmeiβer/Illus. by Jörg Mühle, Translated from German by David H. Wilson, (April 2015, Little Gestalten), $19.95, ISBN: 978-3-89955-740-4

Recommended for ages 10+

Imagine if Doug, the Wimpy Kid, his buddy, Rowley, and Fregley, the weird kid, started their own superhero group. Now you’ve got an idea of what to expect with The Incredible Three and a Half Superheroes. Headed by Sebastian Appleby-Krumble, aka The Brain, the three middle school friends and classmates are a quirky group of kids from class 6A, taught by the lovely Mrs. Daffodil. Their nemeses, class 6B (for bums, among other things), are taught by the awful Mr. Devill. Things have gone missing from Mrs. Daffodil’s class, and the school administration thinks that she may not be able to control her class. To save her teaching position and reputation, the Incredible Three and a Half (the half being Martin “The Chameleon’s invisible friend, a shy chicken) must find out exactly who the real culprit(s) are.

If that wasn’t enough on its own, Sebastian also has his awful – but wealthy – Aunt Boudicea – staying with them for her birthday festivities. Sebastian’s mother is going crazy trying to feed the woman and her husband, and create an entertaining birthday song and dance routine for Sebastian to perform to entertain her at her birthday party!

The book is written in middle grade style, but the language tends toward a slightly higher level. There’s more profanity than I expected in a middle grade book, so this may be an issue for some families. Written in first-person from Sebastian/The Brain’s point of view, and illustrated with black and white line drawings throughout, this will appeal to fans of The Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, and other books in the diary/journal genre. There’s a lot of running back and forth between plot and subplot, and the writing becomes hectic, but kids will likely get a kick out of the craziness of planning a party for Sebastian’s crazy aunt and shrugging off the constant indignities she – and his classmates – toss his way.

Not a bad purchase for home and public libraries, but school libraries will likely be turned off by the language.


Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Puberty, Realistic Fiction

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Realistic Fiction Books for Middle Graders

al-capone-does-my-shirtsI’ve encountered some great Top Ten Tuesday lists on my fellow book bloggers websites; it’s a meme, courtesy of The Broke and The Bookish, so I thought I’d join the fun.




For this week’s Top 10, I’m featuring realistic fiction for middle graders. Having just served as a first round judge for the 2014 Cybils Middle Grade Realistic Fiction panel, I thought this would be a great place to spotlight some books I’ve read!

Wonderstruckmixed up filesFrom the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E.L. Konigsburg One of my all-time favorites. Kids run away, live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, unravel a mystery.


Wonderstruck, by Brian Selznick Have a box of tissues ready. Beautiful story, with parallel narratives that come together over a span of decades.




god_margaretall four stars coverAre You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume Another classic, this one tackles deep questions like religion, puberty, and family through a growing young woman’s eyes.


All Four Stars, by Tara Dairman I love this book! A young foodie being raised by convenience food junkies decides to take matters into her own hands, with hilarious results.




amelia rulespopularity1Amelia Rules series, by Jimmy Gormley This graphic novel series is great – Amelia lives with her mom and aunt, wishes her dad took a bigger role in her life, and hangs out with friends. There are hilarious and tear-jerking stories to be told here.

The Popularity Papers, by Amy Ignatow This hysterical series is written in journal format from the points of view of two best friends who conduct “research” into how to be popular (i.e., hanging around the popular kids to find out how to get in with the in crowd). I give this series to girls who love Dork Diaries and want more.


bindi-babes-narinder-dhami-paperback-cover-art18378827Bindi Babes, by Narinder Dhami This middle grade series about a group of sisters who have their father wrapped around their finger, when their Auntie shows up to rein things in, is light and fun, perfect summer reading.


Abby Spencer Goes to Bollywood, by Varsha Bajaj What would happen if you discovered, one day, that your dad is a Bollywood heartthrob! This emotional, feel-good story looks at families, fame, and life in the spotlight – even when you’re not the famous one.




unspeakable evilal-capone-does-my-shirtsAl Capone Does My Shirts, by Gennifer Choldenko Moving story about a family living on Alcatraz Island in the 1920s. Moose’s dad is a guard at Alcatraz, and all he wants to do is make new friends and play baseball – but he’s responsible for his sister, Natalie. He has to balance his love and desire to protect her with his frustration and desire for independence.

I Am A Genius of Unspeakable Evil and I Want To Be Your Class President, by Josh Lieb Uproariously funny story about a real-life evil genius dealing with minions, middle school, and the insanity surrounding class elections.

Posted in Fiction, Middle School, Puberty, Tween Reads

Book Review: Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume (Yearling, 1970)

Recommended for ages 9-12

This Judy Blume classic follows sixth grader Margaret Simon, whose parents move her from their home in New York to the suburbs of New Jersey, and her search for an identity as she goes through puberty. The book has received numerous awards, including the New York Times Outstanding Book of the Year (1970). In 2005, the book made Time Magazine’s All-Time 100 Novels List.

Margaret meets new friends and they quickly form a secret club called the PTS’s – Pre-Teen Sensations. They have to wear bras to their meetings and they talk about boys, school, and most importantly, when they’re getting their periods. Nancy, the ringleader, makes Margaret uncomfortable with her superior attitude and concern over these things; she’s afraid she’ll be the last to get her period and be made fun of.

Raised without organized religion, Margaret has a very personal relationsihp with God and talks to him whenever she needs a comforting ear. She tells him her insecurities about puberty and her frustration with her family. With the other kids in her neighborhood identifying as either Christian or Jewish, Margaret struggles to know God in one of these faiths, but comes up empty; she asks him, after visiting both a synagogue and a church why she can’t “feel him” the way she does when she talks to him.

I loved this book when I was in sixth grade and re-reading it now, it holds up, mainly because the heart of the story still exists. Mean girls may appear bigger than life now, but Nancy was definitely a pioneering mean girl; Margaret is the Everygirl that we all identified with – insecure about ourselves, insecure about our place in school and our families, and just trying to figure it all out. Blume weaves all of Margaret’s insecurities together to create a solid, realistic character that girls can all identify with. Nobody does puberty like Judy Blume.

Judy Blume’s website features the usual author fare; there is a bio, interview questions, even autobiographical essays. She offers advice on writing and has a section on censorship – she is a very well-known advocate for the freedom to read – and her “Reference Desk” section provides interviews and an index of articles and information about Blume.