All My Friends, by Hope Larson, (Jan. 2022, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9780374388669
Hope Larson’s third installment in Eagle Rock series keeps the momentum going. When we first met Hope’s main character, Bina, in 2018’s All Summer Long, she was a 13-year-old finding her way through music, and figuring out her evolving friendship with her bestie, Austin. Now, in All My Friends, Bina and her friends are in Fancy Pink, a band getting a lot of notice; she’s in a back-and-forth with her parents as she tries to take her band to the next level, and her parents worry about things moving too quickly, and she’s still figuring out relationships, whether it’s her strained relationship with Austin or how she feels about Cooper, the cute guy in a local band. The Eagle Rock books have captured big moments in a tween/teens’ life: relationships, dating, parents, and growing up. The characters have grown with each book, as Hope Larson’s audience is growing, keeping them invested in the stories of the Eagle Rock friends. Artwork in shades of pink, black, and white keep the focus on the story while using fonts to give the feeling of music moving through crowds. Whether she is weaving magical tales driven by a human story, or a character-driven story with a spark of magic (in this case, through music), Hope Larson always nails it. A great third act for a popular series.
The Greatest Thing, by Sarah Winifred Searle, (Feb. 2022, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250297235
A fictionalized memoir, The Greatest Thing follows Winifred as she starts the school year after her two closest friends go to a different school. Winifred is talented, creative, and plagued by anxiety. Uncomfortable with her body, she engages in habits like “tricking” her body into “forgetting it was hungry by making it sick”. When she meets new friends April and Oscar, her world opens up: the three friends love art and also deal with self-esteem and anxiety; together, the three find their voices by creating a zine, Gutterglimmers. Eventually, Winifred – with the help of her supportive mom – seeks help, and starts finding comfort in real life as well as the pages of her zine. Filled with helpful instructions on making a zine, and positive portrayals of nonbinary and pansexual characters, The Greatest Thing provides an honest and raw look into adolescent anxiety and depression, and the role art can play in working through emotions and feelings. If you haven’t purchased this book for your YA graphic novels collections yet, you really should.
Visit Sarah Winifred Searle’s website and seem more of her artwork and learn about more of her books.
Danny Chung Sums it Up, by Maisie Chan/Illustrated by Natelle Quek, (Sept. 2021, Amulet), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-4197-4821-9
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!
Carry Me Home, by Janet Fox, (Aug. 2021, Simon & Schuster), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534485082
Twelve year-old Lulu and her younger sister, third grader Serena, live in their car with their father. It’s not so bad; the Suburban has a big back seat, the showers in the RV park aren’t too far away, and the food pantry is near enough to get their food to keep in the car. It’ll be okay. Daddy tells the girls it will get better, and they hope it will, until the morning when the girls wake up and their father is gone. Lulu, afraid and distrustful of adults, keeps the girls’ father’s disappearance a secret – he’s done this before, right after their mother died – and tries to keep their RV park bill paid, get food from the pantry, and navigate both her and Serena’s school schedules, hoping upon hope that no one will discover their secret and separate the sisters. The weather in Montana is getting cold – much colder than their home in Texas – and the stress of keeping up appearances and being hungry and cold is starting to wear on Lulu. Told in the first person from Lulu’s point of view, and moving between past and present, Carry Me Home has characters that instantly feel real, with heartbreaking moments and the incredible strength exhibited by each character. It’s a story of friendship and finding home as much as it is a story of grief, loss, and poverty. A reminder that we never know what any given person is dealing with in a given moment, Carry Me Home is a book for readers who love realistic fiction. A side subplot links to Eleanor Coerr’s Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes, and author Janet Fox’s author webpage includes downloadable instructions on folding paper cranes, a curriculum guide, and other resources.
Display and booktalk with readalikes like Katherine Applegate’s Crenshaw and Melissa Sarno’s Just Under the Clouds.
Wave, by Diana Farid/Illustrated by Kris Goto, (March 2022, Cameron Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781951836580
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.
The Other Half of Happy, by Rebecca Balcárcel, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $7.99, ISBN: 9781797213910
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.
Alone in the Woods, by Rebecca Behrens, (Oct. 2020, Sourcebooks for Young Readers), $7.99, ISBN: 9781728231013
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.
Definitely Dominguita: Sherlock Dom, by Terry Catasús Jennings/Illustrated by Fatima Anaya, (Nov. 2021, Aladdin), $6.99, ISBN: 9781534465084
The newest Definitely Dominguita book has to be my favorite one yet: Dom leaves Mundytown for greener pastures when she joins Steph for a trip to Steph’s grandmother’s home in Virginia, and walks right into a mystery that only Sherlock Dom – inspired, naturally, by her current read, the Sherlock Holmes’s adventure, The Hound of the Baskervilles – can solve! Gram’s neighbor is missing Esther, her goat, and Dom and Steph are determined to help crack the case. With Pancho on Facetime acting as Inspector Lestrade, Sherlock Dom and Steph Watson track down the clues and put the pieces together to solve the mystery and bring Esther home safely.
The Definitely Dominguita books are so much fun for so many reasons: the fun, light writing and swiftly moving action; the lovable characters and their vivid imaginations that encourages kids to embrace creative play; the introduction of classic books to kids, in relatable settings and situations, and the front-and-center spotlighting of Latino/a characters, being kids and having a great adventure. I love these stories, I love the way Terry Catasús Jennings re-envisions classic books, and I love Fatima Anaya’s black and white illustrations. While this book doesn’t provide any hints as to the next book in the series, I can only hope… after all, summer’s coming and there’s always a chance Dom will pick up a copy of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, right?
Back matter includes a note on Dom’s latest inspiration, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous character, Sherlock Holmes. Have some Sherlock Holmes coloring sheets handy, thanks to Education.com; or a fun drawing page, also through Education.com. The Mutually Inclusive blog has a great author spotlight on author Terry Catasús Jennings,
Susie B. Won’t Back Down, by Margaret Finnegan, (Oct. 2021, Atheneum), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534496361
Susie Babuszkiewicz is a fifth grader with a lot to say: she’s worried about polar bears, she’ll let you know it’s not fair that she’s got to be called Susie B. now that there’s another Susie – one who spells her name all cool, like Soozee – in her school, and she really dislikes the Usual Geniuses who always get called on in class and get picked for cool things in school. Kids like Susie, who have “butterflies” in their brain? They never get called on unless it’s to criticize or ask if they’re paying attention, and she’s tired of it! She and her best friend, her spark, Joselyn, decide to run for seats on the student council to give “normal” kids a chance. Susie wants to be student council president so that she can raise awareness for polar bears and “get to be the boss of everyone… AND eternal glory”. Susie B. doesn’t seem to have the biggest grasp on 5th grade politics just yet, but that’s okay: aspirations are good!
The elections serve as the backdrop to Susie’s growth trajectory; the main focus of the novel. Written as journal entries to Susan B. Anthony, the topic of Susie’s hero research project, Susie learns that our heroes are human to a fault, friendships can be fleeting, and eternal glory may not be within reach by fifth grade, but learning to love yourself and advocate for yourself is. Brilliantly written in the first person, Susie B. has a sense of humor and pathos that readers will love and see themselves in. There is a strong subplot of Susan B. Anthony, and other “heroes of history”, having human foibles – and how we can appreciate the good that they do while not shying away from – not whitewashing over – the human failings.
Positive portrayals of neurodivergent characters, great pacing, and high relatability makes Susie B. Won’t Back Down a great book for classroom discussions and pleasure reading. Don’t miss this one.