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

A fun Summer mystery! Saltwater Secrets

Saltwater Secrets, by Cindy Callaghan, (Apr. 2021, Aladdin), $7.99, ISBN: 9781534417434

Ages 9-13

Originally published in hardcover last year, the paperback release of this fun Summer mystery is perfect for beach reading while ruminating on how water ices can save the world. Half-sisters Josie and Stella spend every summer together: Josie lives in Australia with her mom, while Stella lives in New York with her mom and stepdad. They share their summers – and their dad – together at the Jersey Shore, where they have their rituals. This year, Stella is pushing back against those rituals, because she’s on the verge of high school and wants to act more adult; Josie revels in their childhood memories. What starts out as a story where two sisters are growing up yet afraid of growing apart gets infinitely more interesting when you realize that chapters alternate between the sisters’ story and a debriefing at a police station. Something big has happened, as the story unfolds through each chapter, and it has to do, somehow, with the new smoothie store that took the place of Josie’s beloved water ice shop; a pop star coming to perform a concert at the pier, and the jellyfish population, currently undergoing a marine life crisis. This family story becomes a co-plot to an environmental mystery that brings the sisters back together to solve as they work out their growing pains, and it is guaranteed to keep readers glued to the pages. There’s a fun cast of supporting characters, great pacing and dialogue, and an eloquent statement about the environment and how we affect it, for better or for worse. Put this on your shelves with other summer books like Kayla Miller’s graphic novel, Camp, Mae Respicio’s Any Day With You, Melissa Savage’s Lemons, and – naturally! – Rita Williams-Garcia’s One Crazy Summer.

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

Horse Trouble is a guide to tween life!

Horse Trouble, by Kristin Varner, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250225887

Ages 8-12

Part horseback riding primer, part guide to tween life, Horse Trouble is the story of Kate, a 12-year-old who loves horses and is frustrated by her body. Her best friend is thin and gets the attention of Kate’s crush; the mean girls at the riding school and her middle school target her appearance and flaunt their expensive clothes and accessories while looking down on her. Kate is focused on riding – she works at the school to help pay for her lessons – and competing, but when she’s home, she’s at war with her reflection. Her brother calls her nicknames like “chubbs”, and her mother offers to join a weight-loss program with her, but Kate needs to find her confidence before she can see results. She finds that confidence at the riding school and through competition, but even there, she gets angry at the number of times she’s thrown from the horses. A strong story of finding one’s passion and inner strength, Horse Trouble hits all the right points: self-esteem and body image; coping with bullies; comparing oneself to others both in terms of body size and possessions; coping with crushes; finding mentors, and that connection to friends that we always come back to. Teal-and-white illustrations are appealing, the characters are all likable, and I love the fun character introductions, illustrated with fun facts about each. Each chapter introduction comes with a fun fact about the riding course, and there are great facts about horseback riding and competing throughout the story.

Inspired by Kristin Varner’s own tween experiences, Horse Trouble is just great reading. See more of her illustration at her website.

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

Reading Takes You Everywhere: Into the Clouds!

Into the Clouds, by Tod Olson, (April 2020, Scholastic Focus), $18.99, ISBN: 9781338207361

Ages 8-12

For my latest Reading Takes You Everywhere Summer Reading post, I’m taking you to the Himalayas, where we can – from a safe, much warmer distance – scale the heights of K2, a mountain “more treacherous” than Mount Everest. Fewer than 400 people have been able to successfully climb K2: “four every four mountaineers who have stood on its summit, one has died trying to get there”. Although Everest stands higher, K2 has unpredictable weather and gale-force winds that have swept climbers off its face entirely. Into the Clouds is the story of two parties that attempted K2: the first American Karakoram Expedition in 1938, and the 1953 Third American Expedition, which makes up a greater part of the book. Into the Clouds follows Charlie Houston’s team as they attempt to summit the mountain in the midst of vicious storms, risks of avalanche, frostbite, illness, and rivalry, turning the expedition into a rescue mission.

Tod Olson can write narrative non-fiction like the most exciting adventure/survival novel: if you haven’t read his Lost series, you need to check in with your I Survived readers, who likely have. Here, he puts together an exhaustively researched work filled with photos to set the reader at base camp along with Houston’s team. The biting winds, the constant fear of freezing and the aggravation each team member felt clearly comes through here. Adventure and survival readers who have moved on from I Survived and are ready to read middle grade and middle school narrative non-fiction like Trapped by Marc Aronson and Jennifer Armstrong’s Shipwreck at the Bottom of the World.

Read the book, and tell your readers to visit Tod Olson’s webpage where they can find an Into the Clouds scavenger hunt. Into the Clouds has a starred review from School Library Journal.

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

Come back to the Cardboard Kingdom!

The Cardboard Kingdom #2: The Roar of the Beast, by Chad Sell, (June 2021, Knopf Books for Young Readers), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593125557

Ages 9-12

Before I get into the bones of this book, I need to say it right here: I had to request the first Cardboard Kingdom from a library other than mine, because both my copies ARE NEVER THERE. When I covered at my neighborhood branch while mine was closed? Their copy was out, too! Chad Sell has tapped into something incredible with his Cardboard Kingdom and Doodleville books: he’s woven fantasy storytelling into a realistic setting that captures what we’ve been doing as children for as long as any of us can remember. His characters create their own fantasy worlds with cardboard costumes and by bringing their doodles to life, and as you read it, he (and his collaborators – there are so many, find them here!) seamlessly has his characters inhabit the “real world”, having a conversation, and then – in the space of a panel – the conversation continues, but those cardboard costumes are now high fantasy dress pieces, and we see these kids as they see one another. It’s just incredible, and the kids in my library system can’t get enough of it.

In the second Cardboard Kingdom book, we have Vijay, who goes by The Beast, decide he’s not going to be The Beast anymore. He’s being bullied by some mean teenagers, and he pulls into himself, unreachable to his friends and even his older sister. Meanwhile, another friend, Nate, sees what he swears is a giant monster outside his window one night, and breaks his leg trying to get a better look at it. Who is this scary monster? Is it a new cardboard character, or is this something really, really, real and scary? (Depends on who you’re talking to.) With a gender- and culturally-diverse group of friends working together, this latest Cardboard Kingdom adventure is exactly what middle graders need. They have the chance to see themselves and receive encouragement to continue living through their imaginations and creativity. I love this series, and even more, I love Chad Sell’s webpage, where you can find costume designs and coloring book pages for Cardboard Kingdom and Doodleville.

The Cardboard Kingdom was an Eisner nominee (2019), received 5 starred reviews, and was a Texas Bluebonnet second place.

The Cardboard Kingdom: Roar of the Beast was created, organized, and drawn by Chad Sell with writing from nine other authors: Jay Fuller, David DeMeo, Katie Schenkel, Molly Muldoon, Vid Alliger, Manuel Betancourt, Michael Cole, Cloud Jacobs, and Barbara Perez Marquez.

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

She’s Grace, not “Kyle’s Little Sister”!

Kyle’s Little Sister, by BonHyung Jeong, (June 2021, Yen Press), $13.00, ISBN: 9781975316549

Ages 8-12

Grace is excited to start middle school with her best friends, Amy and Jay, but there’s one thing she’s not thrilled about… her older brother, Kyle, is an 8th grader in the same school. Her extroverted, handsome, older brother who loves to tease her whenever he gets the chance. She’s in Kyle’s shadow whether she’s at school or at home, forever being referred to as “Kyle’s little sister”, but she’s so much more than that! Grace and her best friends have a falling out, but she falls in with a school mean girl, Cam, who decides to “help” Grace out by bullying Amy. Grace looks the other way, not realizing that Cam has her own reasons for wanting to be friendly with Grace – and Amy and Jay can see that a mile away, but have to figure out how to help Grace from a distance. Maybe Kyle isn’t the awful big brother that Grace thinks he is after all? Kyle’s Little Sister is, at its heart, a story of friendship and those inevitable middle school conflicts, and it’s a relatable story about defining oneself. Manga illustrations make for expressive characters and playful storytelling. A good realistic fiction story to add to your graphic novel shelves, and a good way to introduce younger readers to manga outside of Pokemon.

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

Graphic novels: real-life stories

More graphic novels to talk about, this time, real-life stories. Some are realistic fiction, some are inspired by moments in the author’s life. All are great reading!

My Own World, by Mike Holmes, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250208286
Ages 8-13
Inspired by events in his childhood, Wings of Fire and Secret Coders illustrator Mike Holmes delivers a graphic memoir with a splash of fantasy. Nathan is alone, but for his older brother, Ben. His other siblings and the neighborhood bullies torment him, but he always looks to Ben to spend time with; Ben is the one person who gets him. Unfortunately, there are things coming up that take Ben farther and farther away from Nathan, leaving him to create a fantasy world to escape to when the real world intrudes too much. A study in grief, loss, and healing, My Own World is a better reading choice for middle schoolers than younger readers; there’s trauma contained within these pages. It’s an excellent starting point for discussions on the lingering damage done by bullying, loneliness, and coping with loss. The real world is depicted in flat colors, but Nathan’s fantasy world is alive with color, vibrancy, and engaging characters that Nathan creates to spend time with.
My Own World has a starred review from Booklist.
Jukebox, by Nidhi Chanani, (June 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250156372
Ages 10 to 14
Nidhi Chanani is amazing in her ability to create magical travels using everyday objects. She infused a shawl with the power to fantastical India in her 2017 award-winner, Pashmina; now, she weaves a story about a jukebox that can transport listeners to a moment in time, inspired by the albums they play, in Jukebox. Shaheen is a girl who feels like she and her mom come in second to her father’s love of – obsession with? – music, particularly with albums. He never seems to be present to hear her when she’s talking; he just wants to talk about the newest album he’s on the hunt for, and he spends hours searching record bins for new additions to his collection. When he doesn’t return home one night, Shaheen and her cousin, Tannaz, start a search, only to discover a glowing jukebox at the local record store where Dad spent so much of his time. A Bessie Smith record spins on the turntable, and the girls find themselves transported to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1929! The song ends, returning them to their present time and place, and the chase through musical history is on. The girls spin different records, visiting key moments in time. from political marches to landmark concerts, while searching for Shaheen’s father. Will they be able to find him before morning? Jukebox is an incredible journey through our history using music as the vehicle. Sections are organized by album cover, with Shaheen’s father’s notes on the albums and social climate, giving readers more context as they prepare to jump into a new decade: Bessie Smith’s section includes notes on the album’s 1929 release, the oncoming Depression, and a 1929 Oscar awards program; Nina Simone’s Black Gold includes a Golden State Comic Con program and a newspaper with an Earth Day headline, all of which happened in 1970. Notes from Shaheen’s father mention her career and marriage eroding in the 1960s, and the music industry’s punishment for her political music.
Brilliant storytelling and an essential look at the ties between music and social change. Visit Nidhi Chanani’s website for printables and more about her books, and get multiple copies of this book ready – your readers deserve them! If you’re doing a travel themed Summer Reading program this year, you couldn’t ask for a better concept: pick songs, get some facts, and create slideshows; invite readers to offer their own insight. What song was popular the year they graduated from kindergarten? What song makes them think of family? A favorite friend? Invite readers to talk about music from their culture that others may not know. There’s so much you can do here!
Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (June 2021, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593126301
Ages 8-12
This graphic novel adaptation of Jennifer Holm’s 2010 Newbery Honor-winning novel is simply gorgeous. Set in 1935, eleven-year-old Turtle is a girl who’s had some tough times. She’s more level-headed than her mother, loves the movies, and really doesn’t like Shirley Temple. While figuring out where life will take her next, her mother sends Turtle to Key West, Florida, to live with her aunt when she takes a job housekeeping for a woman who doesn’t like children, and Turtle has never met her aunt or the many cousins she’s now living with. She starts getting into the swing of things, following the “Diaper Gang”: neighborhood boys with a babysitting club and a secret diaper rash formula that puts them in high demand. As she gets into a day-to-day groove, she learns some family secrets that leave her wanting more: more of her mother’s past, more of her family history, just… more. A family study, a piece of historical fiction that examines life in Depression-Era Florida, and a strong, smart female protagonist make this a great enough story, and then you Savanna Ganucheau’s artwork: filled with lush and humid outdoor spreads, we get a picture of 1930s life in Key West. Turtle’s cousins run barefoot through their day, while Turtle insists on her shoes. Babysitting moments are laugh-out loud funny, and Turtle interactions with a cantankerous senior citizen will make readers chuckle and admire the girl’s tenacity. Inspired by Jennifer Holm’s great-grandmother’s life in Key West, this is an adaptation that your readers will love and will absolutely gain the story some new fans.
Chunky, by Yehudi Mercado, (June 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062972781
Ages 8-12
A memoir of Yehudi Mercado’s Mexican-Jewish upbringing, Chunky is more incredible storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Hudi has one lung after a childhood battle with lung disease, he’s overweight, and he loves video games, science fiction and fantasy, and being the funny kid. His parents want him to lose weight and be healthier, and try to push him toward different sports to get him more active. Hudi, not particularly in love with the idea, goes along with his parents to make them happy, but creates an imaginary friend: a pink-furred   cheerleader/mascot called Chunky, to cheer him on as he tries – and flops – at baseball, swimming, and tennis. Chunky is there to tell Yehudi he’s better at comedy and drawing; he’s Hudi’s inner compass, telling him to stay true to himself. When Hudi’s father loses his job and has to move to another state to find work, he finds himself faced with a crossroads and joins the football team in a last bid to fit the image his parents want to have of him. Chunky is more than a memoir; it’s a story of trying to please others before yourself; it’s a story of using humor as deflection; it’s a story of listening to your true self. Hudi is funny – he can’t help but crack up people he comes into contact with, especially medical professionals – and he’s pretty game to try anything his parents want, even if his heart may not be 100% committed. He’s good-natured and kind, which makes his break with Chunky painful when he attempts one more sport to satisfy his parents. We want funny Hudi back! We want to go get ice cream with him and feel like everything will work out! The artwork is bright, colorful, upbeat, and loaded with great details, like Hudi’s t-shirts (console video games! Chewbacca!) and his room, which his father constantly redecorates to affirm his dedication to the latest sport Hudi’s involved with – and that Chunky and Hudi take great pleasure in defacing time and time again. I can gush about Chunky all day, so let me just say that this is another must-add to your shelves.
Learn more about Yehudi Mercado and get a look at Chunky at his website. Chunky has a starred review from School Library Journal.
Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Julie Murphy’s If the Shoe Fits: A Meant to Be Novel kicks off new adult Disney retellings!

Okay, I know this isn’t technically a teen novel, but it falls under New Adult, is written by YA literary force Julie Murphy, and is a retelling of Disney’s Cinderella, so Here. It. Stays.

If the Shoe Fits: A Meant to Be Novel, by Julie Murphy,
(Aug. 2021, Disney-Hyperion), $26.99, ISBN: 9781368050388

Ages 14+

Cindy is a new grad with a degree in shoe design and leaves New York to visit with her stepfamily – her mother, two stepsisters, and triplet half-siblings – in California before kicking her job search into high gear. Her dad died several years before, and her mom, a powerhouse executive producer of a popular dating reality show, Before Midnight, is busy getting the new season of the show up and running, but wants to take some time to spend with Cindy and the family before disappearing into her cell phone again. On a whim, Cindy and her two stepsisters find themselves cast as prospective suitresses; Cindy hopes the exposure will be what her fledgling shoe design career needs to get her name out there. The thing is, Cindy is a curvy girl: some may call her plus size, some may call her a lot worse, and her stepmother worries that she’ll be a target for abuse. Cindy isn’t having it. She’s as deserving of a spot as any of those other women, and sure enough, the masses respond with love! Week after week, Cindy holds out on the show and, despite a freeze on communication while she’s on set, Cindy hears word that she’s becoming a body positivity icon! She’s also falling hard for her suitor on the show, but we all know that real Hollywood endings don’t exist – or do they? Cindy learns that when you don’t like the way things in your life are laid out, designing your own future is an option.

I LOVED this book. I adore Julie Murphy, I love the way she writes, I love the characters she creates. She world-builds a fantasy within our reality, and she doesn’t give us “feel bad for me” heroines who hide on their couches with a pint of ice cream and Netflix. No, my friend, they charge into the middle of the spotlight and show everyone around them how it’s done. With snappy dialogue and strong female relationships, If the Shoe Fits is the kind of romance we all want to read, foundation by Disney and fit into today’s reality TV-obsessed landscape. There’s a memorable cast of characters, and I loved, truly, truly loved, that the “evil stepmother” and “evil stepsisters” don’t exist here. There are tense moments here and there, but it’s believable family moments, not cooked up for extra drama.

If the Shoe Fits is the first in a new series of Disney retellings for new adults, and I can’t wait for more.

Posted in Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Tales from the TBR: NatGeo’s Explorer Academy – Star Dunes

Explorer Academy: The Star Dunes (Book 4), by Trudi Trueit, (March 2020, National Geographic), $16.99, ISBN: 9781426336812
Ages 8-12
I am WAY behind on my Explorer Academy reading; Book 6 is coming out in October and I’ve only just finished Book 4, which came out in hardcover last year, and in softcover in January of this year. But do NOT be me: this middle grade adventure series has been one of the best I’ve read over the last few years; I’ve given it to my nephew, who’s devoured each book, and I talk it up to my library kids, who love all the cool James Bond-type intrigue and gadgets, along with the piece-by-piece solving of a mystery that takes Cruz Coronado, our main character, and his friends, all over the world. In this fourth installment, Cruz and Company take on poachers and heal mountain gorillas in Africa as they continue on their hunt for Cruz’s mother’s next clue. Meanwhile, not all is well at the Explorer Academy as Cruz gets some unsettling news and discovers that one of his classmates is increasingly hostile to him, calling him a “hero hog”. On the up side, a new student at Explorer Academy will satisfy longtime readers who were probably wondering when that particular development would finally happen (I know I did!). The cast we’ve all grown to know is here, and even first-time Explorer Academy readers will find themselves comfortable in this fourth volume – but really, to know the whole story, you should read the first three, too. Color illustrations and an introduction to the scientists that inspire the adventures in the book make this a great middle grade series. Hand this to all your action adventure readers – it’s science fiction that’s closer and closer to realistic fiction every day.
Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: PAWCASSO by Remy Lai!

If you haven’t yet read and enjoyed Remy Lai’s books, you really must. She has a wonderful way of looking at life, whether it’s finding a way through grief by making cakes (Pie in the Sky), or striking out on one’s own to prove their independence (Fly on the Wall). Her newest book, Pawcasso, is about a lonely girl and a neighborhood dog with a shopping basket who quickly garners a fan club.

Pawcasso, by Remy Lai, (May 2021, Henry Holt BFYR),
$21.99, ISBN: 9781250774484
Ages 8-12

Jo is an 11-year-old girl who has trouble connecting with new friends. As she stares out her window, she’s drawn to a neighborhood dog who trots around, shopping basket in his mouth, stopping at stores and picking up groceries. Everyone seems to know the pup, and, intrigued, Jo follows him, to try and figure out where he lives. People from the neighborhood see Jo following “Pawcasso”, as he’s become known, and assume she’s his owner: chaos ensues as Jo just kind of allows everyone to believe Pawcasso is her dog, including the neighborhood dog catcher, who’s on Pawcasso’s trail after receiving complaints about an unleashed dog in the neighborhood. Jo finds herself in an uncomfortable middle as she’s caught in her own lie, and may have to come clean and risk the new friendships she’s formed, in order to keep Pawcasso from going to the pound.

Remy Lai’s artwork is here in full color, and she brings Pawcasso, Jo, and their little neighborhood to life with friendly, colorful panels. The story will appeal to a wide range of readers, from dog- and pet-lovers, to graphic novel and realistic fiction fans, to readers looking for a good story about friendship, family, and fun.

Pawcasso has starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Shelf Awareness. Visit Remy Lai’s author webpage for more about her books and to sign up for her newsletter!

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

Ahh, Paris… Kisses and Croissants

Kisses and Croissants, by Anne-Sophie Jouhanneau, (April 2021, Delacorte Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9780593173572

Ages 12+

Seventeen-year-old Mia has dancing in her blood: her great-great-great grandmother, according to a family legend, was one of the girls painted by the artist Degas when she danced at the Paris Opera. She lives and breathes ballet, with dreams of being accepted by the American Ballet Theatre. When she’s accepted for a summer program at Institut de l’Opéra de Paris, she’s thrilled – this could be her chance! – but she’s not expecting to have to share a room with her dance rival, Audrey. And she’s definitely not expecting Louis, a handsome young Frenchman with a Vespa, who offers to be her tour guide around Paris. As she and Louis start exploring Paris – and their feelings for each other – together, Mia has to consider what is truly most important in her life, and whether there’s room for both Louis and ballet. A YA romance with an intriguing mystery taking place in the heart of Paris, Kisses and Croissants is perfect for readers with a bit of wanderlust. There’s friendship, competition, a little splash of family strife, and the quest for perfection that drives Mia and her friends. Very readable, with very likable characters. Give this to your Anna and the French Kiss, Love & Gelato, and Isla and the Happily Ever After fans. With all the quarantining we’ve had to do lately, expect road trip romance to bring the readers this summer! Lists from author Ashlee CowlesBook Addicts Guide, and Brightly will help you pull together a great display.