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

Belittled Women: A Little Women for a new age

Belittled Women, by Amanda Sellett, (Nov. 2022, Clarion Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9780358567356

Ages 14+

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.

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, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Tales from the TBR: Nina Soni: Master of the Garden

Nina Soni, Master of the Garden, by Kashmina Sheth/Illustrated by Jenn Kocsmiersky, (Apr. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $7.99, ISBN: 9781682632260

Ages 7-11

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.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Marisol Rainey is back!

Surely Surely Marisol Rainey, by Erin Entrada Kelly, (Aug. 2022, Greenwillow Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062970459

Ages 7-10

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.

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

New Faith Erin Hicks! Ride On!

Ride On, by Faith Erin Hicks, (Aug. 2022, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250772824

Ages 10-14

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.

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, 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, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: All My Friends

All My Friends, by Hope Larson, (Jan. 2022, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9780374388669

Ages 10-14

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.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Graphic Novel Bonanza: Adora and the Distance

Adora and the Distance, by Marc Bernardin/Illustrated by Ariela Kristantina, (March 2022, Dark Horse), $14.99, ISBN: 9781506724508

Ages 12+

Like I said, I read a HUGE backlog of graphic novels while I had my little break, so be prepared for some “If you didn’t read it, it’s new to you!” posts. This time, I’ve got Adora and the Distance, by television writer-producer and comic book author Marc Bernardin. Set in a high fantasy world, Adora is a young woman of color living in a world full of adventure: there are pirates, ghosts, a royal family, and a malevolent entity known as The Distance. The Distance devours and destroys, and Adora, connected to The Distance, must leave her home on a mission to stop it.

The artwork is stunning. The colors, the shading, the depth, bring this book to life in a reader’s hands. The story builds to an incredible conclusion that made the world come to a halt around me as I took it all in. Adora and the Distance is a father’s love letter to his daughter in the best way he could reach her; the best way to let her know he sees her. Adora and the Distance is a story of autism, you see; Marc Bernardin’s author’s note at the end of the book  explains his impetus for creating this epic tale. Adora is smart, brave, and full of love.  There’s humor, adventure, family, and forgiveness all here, bound into this story that connects a father to his daughter.

Put Adora and the Distance in your distributor cart, and get it on shelves for your readers. Give it to parents, educators, and caregivers.