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

Booktalk this Book: Dress Coded

Dress Coded, by Carrie Firestone, (July 2020, GP Putnam), $17.99, ISBN: 9781984816436

Ages 9-13

I’ve been killing myself with anticipation over this book since I received the early galley last year. I finally put everything else aside and finished this in a day, because it’s that good. Told in short chapters and including podcast transcripts, text messages, and letters, Dress Coded is a perfect snapshot of what it’s like being a young woman in middle school today. Molly Frost is fed up: fed up with her vape-addicted brother, who’s wreaked havoc on her family; fed up with feeling invisible at school, and fed up with the school’s dress code, which seems hardwired solely to embarrass and harass female students of a certain body type. It all blows up the day her friend Olivia is humiliated by the dean and principal for wearing a tank top at school and refusing to take her sweatshirt off her waist to put it back on – a reason that makes itself clear as the story progresses. Several of Molly’s friends have been “dress coded” for similar offenses, and the humiliation and frustration are far greater than the suspected offense. Molly starts a podcast, Dress Coded, where girls speak up about their dress coding experiences and the mental and emotional fallout from run-ins with staff. The podcast grows into a movement to remove the dress code, and Molly, at the center of it, finds the power within her to stand up to her brother and the school bully, and the ability to help other girls find their voice. A primer in middle school activism and a scathing indictment of how women’s bodies are weaponized and sexualized from a young age, Dress Coded is simply essential reading. Please, educators, put this on your summer reading lists!

Dress Coded is author Carrie Firestone’s middle grade debut. I can’t wait to see what else she’s going to give my middle graders. The book is a Booklist Editors’ Choice Selection, a Texas Lone Star Reading List Selection, and a Rise: Feminist Book Project Selection. It has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. Submit your own dress coding story at Carrie Firestone’s author webiste, and learn about her other books, workshops, and author inspiration, too.

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Award winner: All the Way to the Top!

All the Way to the Top: How One Girl’s Fight for American with Disabilities Changed Everything, by Annette Bay Pimentel/Illustrated by Nabi H. Ali, (March 2020, Sourcebooks Explore), $17.99, ISBN: 9781492688976

Ages 4-8

A Schneider Family Book Award Honoree, All the Way to the Top is activist Jennifer Keelan’s story. Diagnosed with cerebral palsy as a child, Jennifer used a wheelchair to get around, but found that “buses, museums, libraries, and even schools that were accessible to my able-bodied peers were not accessible to me because there were no wheelchair ramps”. Becoming an activist at age 6, Jennifer found her voice when her family brought her to strategy meetings and protests for the right to access and to push for the Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA). Most of All the Way to the Top takes place in Jennifer’s early childhood, leading up to her history-making moment in 1990, when, at the age of 9, she took part in the Capitol Crawl, where protestors left their wheelchairs and mobility aids aside and crawled up the Capitol steps to demonstrate the need for accessible architecture. All the Way to the Top is a powerful story about a major moment in history, and illustrates how important it is that children are invited to discussions about policies that affect them. Back matter includes information about activism, the access, the life before and after the ADA, timeline for both the Disability Rights Movement and Jennifer Keelan-Chaffin’s life, and a bibliography. Nabi Ali’s illustrations show expressive, diverse groups of people assembling to discuss and advocate for themselves and others. Jennifer and her younger sister, who attended protests with her, stand out in crowd scenes, with the sisters rendered in full color and the crowd in various monochromatic shades.

Britannica Kids has an entry on the ADA for students, and readers can learn more about Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins at her website. Publisher Sourcebooks has a free, downloadable Educator’s Guide available, and the book detail page has an interview with author Annette Bay Pimentel and more.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

We only get one world. Books to help us care for it.

Bea’s Bees, by Katherine Pryor/Illustrated by Ellie Peterson, (March 2019, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764356995

Ages 5-8

Beatrix is a young girl who loves to listen to and watch the bees buzzing around their hive in a tree on her way home from school. They zig and zag from flower to flower, and head back to the hive, weighed down with pollen and nectar. But one day, the tree is silent, and Bea discovers that the flowers by the tree have all been cut down. She take a trip to the library and researches bees: what flowers they like to feast on, the important part bees play in our own food web, and how some bees are an endangered species. She takes action, planting seeds for mint, clover, and flowers that bees like; she encourages others to plant wildflowers, even handing out seed packets; she even does her science fair project on bees. Can Bea’s dedication bring the bees back to the tree? A moving story about the impact one person can make on helping the environment, Bea’s Bees is realistic fiction that weaves information about bees, environmental impact, and activism seamlessly into the story of a young girl. Back matter has more information about being a friend to bees, and the artist’s rendering of plants that Bea grows in her garden will encourage readers to grab their shovels and some seeds. Endpapers feature dancing, realistic bees against a white backdrop. A good pick to put aside for Earth Day. Read and display with Candace Fleming and Eric Rohmann’s award-winning Honeybee: The Busy Life of Apis Mellifera. If you’re doing grab-and-go bags, consider handing out some seeds for flowers that will grow in your area and that bees enjoy. I looked at the NY State Parks blog and found this article; the Native NY Gardens website also has helpful information. Buggy and Buddy has adorable and affordable craft ideas and books to feature.

 

The Tiny Giant, by Barbara Ciletti/Illustrated by Cathy Morrison, (Sept. 2020, Schiffer Kids), $16.99, ISBN: 9780764360299

Ages 5-8

On the heels of Earth Day is Arbor Day (April 30th in 2021), and The Tiny Giant is great Arbor Day reading. A tiny acorn falls from a blue jay’s mouth, and settles into the ground as the seasons, and life, goes on around it. As the seasons change, the seed within the acorn swells and bursts through, with roots anchoring a tentative sapling poking up through the dirt. The sapling will grow until one day, it will provide acorns for future trees, too. The Tiny Giant plays with perspective, shifting from traditional left-right reading to top-bottom as the tree grows, letting storytime listeners see the exciting shift as the tree grows tall. One and two-sentence spreads use beautiful language to describe the sights unfolding: “…blossoms parade along the branches of the tall oak”, “Buds dress in sleeves of summer’s glory”, “…warm summer rain feed the little seed as it sends a single spare thread of life toward the sky”. The story is about a tiny acorn, but the incredible, detailed artwork shows the life that goes on around the acorn as it begins its journey into a mighty tree; seasons pass, animals wander the landscape in search of food and shelter, leaves curl and wither in the snow, and ripe blackberries burst through the pages as spring arrives. It’s a celebration of life and nature, a look at seasons, and a primary STEM story. Wonderfully done. Back matter includes artwork on North American acorns, Arbor Day Fun Facts, and how readers can grow their own oaks from acorns. Endpapers are decorated with leaves and acorns, faded and pale against a light blue background. The Arbor Day Foundation has a kids corner with digital games and printable coloring sheetsPBS Cartoon Nature Cat has an Arbor Day episode, available with teacher materials, on the PBS website.

 

Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies, (Aug. 2020, Chronicle Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781452176802

Ages 6-8

A girl discovers a love of butterflies, a desire for advocacy, and defines a place for herself in her new home in the U.S. Told in first person narration, a girl reads about butterflies as she learns English, and learns that butterflies, “make a long, long journey, just like we did. They have to be strong to fly so far”; as she becomes a more proficient English reader, she learns that the monarch butterfly population is faltering because of environmental impact: milkweed, the plant they eat and lay eggs on, is being decimated by climate change and by farmers who use chemicals to keep it from growing in fields. She gains the confidence to become an activist, motivating her classmates to take action and create a monarch way station that will create a safe space for monarch butterflies. The girl’s story runs parallel to the caterpillar to butterfly life cycle: she feels herself transforming into someone confident, strong, ready to take a stand. The story moves easily between the girl’s narrative and “book excerpts” that provie the nonfiction text and maps the girl reads, letting readers feel like they’re sharing the same book with the narrator. A quiet subplot about immigration makes itself known as the girl wonders if she belongs in her new life; these doubts diminish as she gains more confidence in herself through her activism. Endpapers illustrate a beautiful kaleidoscope of butterflies fluttering across the page. Back matter is written with children and adult readers in mind, including a guide to getting a monarch way station up and running, monarch facts, booklists for young environmental activists and grown-up activists and educators, and a rich list of Internet resources.

BookRiot has a nice list of butterfly books; I also recommend Caroline Arnold’s Butterflies in Room 6. and activism books like Thank You, Earth: A Love Letter to Our Planet by April Pulley Sayre, The Honeybee by Kirsten Hall, and Greta and the Giants: Inspired by Greta Thunberg’s Stand to Save the World by Zoë Tucker are great display ideas. The Spruce Crafts has a list of 15 butterfly crafts that hit that grab-and-go budget sweet spot.

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

Challenge Everything activates teens/young adult activism

Challenge Everything: An Extinction Rebellion Youth Guide to Saving the Planet, by Blue Sandford, (Sept. 2020, Pavilion Books),

Ages 12+

The coordinator of Extinction Rebellion Youth London, an activist group, is behind this straightforward, illustrated guide that encourages readers to challenge everything: government, big business, even ourselves. Blue lays out the crisis facing Gen Z in a no-nonsense, no drama statement: “We are a generation that has never known a stable climate and that will be defined by how the world responds to the climate and ecological crisis”. Blue calls for readers to research and know their facts before taking action (THANK YOU), and to boycott businesses that pollute the environment, treat their workers poorly, or are unethical. Blue calls for craft activism to do away with the disposable, “fast fashion” trends and encourages readers to repair, mend, and repurpose clothing; reconsider our diets and cut down or cut out animal products; make our leaders accountable and, most importantly, figure out our own moral grounds. Worksheets throughout invite readers to engage in some introspection and create action plans. The last few years have seen our young people take on greater roles in activism than ever before, and the literature out there is reaching younger kids, encouraging them to act and take charge. Whether it’s organizing beach cleanups or asking readers to make businesses and people accountable for their actions, there are ways for everyone to be involved. Challenge Everything is written for middle schoolers through college, and you can use this book in virtually any kind of programming: journaling, advocacy, STEM. Give it a look and consider it for your budding activists.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Blue Giant needs your help to save the oceans!

The Blue Giant, by Katie Cottle, (June 2020 Pavilion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781843654452

Ages 3-7

A young girl named Meera and her mother head to the beach to have a relaxing day, when a large, friendly, blue giant emerges from the water. He’s made up of water and sea life, and he tells them that he needs their help! Meera and her mom put on their scuba gear and head underwater, where the giant swirls around, showing them all the pollution underwater: bottles, plastic bags, fast food containers, it’s just a mess! Meera and Mom immediately start pitching in, but they realize this is too big a job for just two people: once back on land, Meera and Mom recruit others, who also recruit others, to clean up the beaches. Like the book says, “…when everybody helps out… even the biggest messes can be fixed!” A note at the end offers ways to reduce single-plastic usage, including easy ways for kids to help out, like taking a canvas bag to the store or carrying a reusable water bottle.

This is a companion to Katie Cottle’s 2019 book, The Green Giant, and examines a different area of pollution this time; where The Green Giant looks at deforestation and destruction of green spaces, The Blue Giant pleads the case for our waters, which are horrifically polluted, primarily by single-use plastics.

The illustrations are primarily rendered in shades of blue, with sweeping underwaterscapes that show incredible levels of junk floating around. A particularly moving panel shows the Blue Giant swirling around Meera and her mother, stirring up a whirlwind of garbage to surround them. Keep both this book and The Green Giant together for natural-world storytimes and Earth Day storytimes, activism and social justice storytimes.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Resolve to Recycle! Two books on cutting down on plastic

There are lots of great books about taking care of our planet out for kids, and two timely ones focus on the ways tweens and middle graders can start on a big problem: the use of single-use plastics. Inspiring, empowering, and fun, these are two great books to add to your shelves (and Plastic Sucks! also has the dual duty of offering some environmentally conscious careers, too).

Plastic Sucks! How YOU Can Reduce Single-Use Plastic and Save Our Planet, by Dougie Poynter, (Oct. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $19.99, ISBN: 978-1250256201

Ages 10-13

Musician and activist Dougie Poynter, of the group McFly, is here to give kids some straight talk about single-use plastics: they suck. They suck the life out of our oceans, most notably, by killing marine life and decimating our natural resources. Poynter has put together a history of plastic, how plastic still has good uses (medical equipment, safety belts) but is largely used as a temporary convenience, and how kids can take action – and get families involved – to lessen the use of single-use plastic in their everyday lives.

Illustrated in two-color green and black, with loads of infographics and eye-catching statistics, this is a smart look at conservation with a friendly, informative voice. Poynter breaks down recycling symbols and has an illustrated aquatic foodweb to show how everything is interconnected, and how pollution affects life on earth as well as the oceans. Easy swaps illustrate how to cut down on plastic waste. Profiles of environmental activists run throughout the book, offering a look at different careers that may appeal to burgeoning activists: marine biologists, wildlife charity heads, and bloggers/YouTubers are all in here. A glossary is available to help readers with some new terminology. A nice, concise book to have in your environmental collections.

 

Kids Fight Plastic: How to Be a #2minutesuperhero, by Martin Dorey/Illustrated by Tim Wesson, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781536212778

Ages 8-11

Absolute fun while providing absolute info, this digitally illustrated guide to fighting single-use plastic gives kids a book full of missions to fight plastic: from our homes to our schools, to the supermarket and beyond, kids get the skinny on plastics while racking up points, whether it’s through identifying five “good” and five “bad” pieces of plastic, bringing a reusable water bottle everywhere you go, and making homemade snacks to cut down on the use of plastic-wrapped stuff, there’s something for everyone here. Martin Dorey is the founder of the #2minutebeachclean movement, and shows kids that 2 minutes can make a huge difference. Missions are all worth different points, which they can tally up at the end and calculate their “Superhero Rating”. Profiles of different rescued sea life and activists appear throughout on “Everyday Superhero” graphics that look like collectible cards – they can even envision their own Everyday Superhero card! – and missions are all available at the end of the book, in one convenient spot, so folks don’t have to go throughout the book to locate each mission. More resources are available for readers who want to learn more, including more information about the #2minutebeachclean initiative.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

No Voice Too Small lifts up kids voices

No Voice Too Small: 14 Young Americans Making History, edited by Lindsay H. Metcalf, Keila Dawson, & Jeanette Bradley/Illustrated by Jeanette Bradley, (Sept. 2020, Charlesbridge), $18.99, ISBN: 9781623541316

Ages 5-12

Fourteen outstanding young people who saw injustice and took action are celebrated here in poetry and art. Activists include Mari Copeny – “Little Miss Flint” – who demanded clean water for her community and got President Obama’s attention; Virsidiana Sanchez Santos, whose quinceañera at the Texas State Capitol called attention to the state’s stringent immigration policy; and Marley Dias, the girl who started the #1000BlackGirlBooks initative to collect books with characters who looked like her, and so many other readers looking for representation. These activists and 11 more find a place in the pages here, celebrated by luminaries including G. Neri, Nikki Grimes, Joseph Bruchac, and Lesléa Newman. Each profile includes a biographical paragraph; back matter explains the poetry forms used throughout the book, and profiles on each of the featured poets. Callout quotes invite readers to think about ways they can take action. The artwork showcases each of individual, and endpapers look like blackboards, with quotes from each activist in a chalk-white font. One percent of hardcover sales will go to TeachingforChange.org.

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

Power to the People: We Are Power elevates nonviolent activism

We Are Power: How Nonviolent Activism Changes the World, by Todd Hasak-Lowy, (April 2020, Abrams Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781419741111

Ages 12+

A thought-provoking treatise on nonviolent activism, We Are Power presents six case studies throughout recent history: Gandhi, Alice Paul, Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, Václav Havel, and Greta Thunberg. Each section explores nonviolent resistance, the roots behind each advocate’s activism, and how the power of one person, exhorting nonviolence, can motivate thousands and create change. In an increasingly contentious world, the power of nonviolent activism, and placing this information in the hands of a generation of activists, is not only smart, it’s crucial.

Beginning with Gandhi and his theory of “soul force”, or satyagraha, each consecutive profile touches on how previous movements inspired one another. Martin Luther King in particular was influenced by Gandhi, while Alice Paul’s suffrage activism was a response to the more extreme suffagists in the UK, and her desire to be seen as calm, unflappable, and strong. Cesar Chavez understood that increasing awareness of migrant worker conditions was the best way to bring social justice to migrant workers and received a letter of encouragement from Martin Luther King, himself leading nonviolent resistance movements to bring civil rights to the country. Playwright-turned-Czech president Vaclav Havel used his art to protest; later, letters from prison, where he wrote about truth and opened people’s eyes by telling them that they were complicit in allowing their restrictive government’s rule by following the rules. Teenager Greta Thunberg began her climate change protest by being the sole student striking for climate change, and motivated a planet to take action.

A solid beginning for a discussion on social justice, activism, and civil disobedience, this is a must-have volume for middle school and high school collections. I can’t wait to put this in my order cart when my library, opens again. This would be a great Summer Reading choice, for educators who haven’t finished their lists yet. Photographs of protests and tense moments, like seeing schoolchildren attacked by dogs and being doused with hoses, make for great discussions on the use of violence against nonviolence – what stands to be gained? Comprehensive endnotes, bibliography, and index complete the book. Author Todd Hasak-Lowy’s author webpage has videos and resources for parents and educators.

We Are Power has starred reviews from School Library Journal, School Library Connection, and Kirkus.

 

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

Go With the Flow needs to be in every school, in every library, available to everyone, everywhere

Go With the Flow, by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann/Illustrated by Lily Williams, (Jan. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250143174

Ages 12+

Hazelton High School has a problem: there are never feminine hygiene products available to their students. There never seems to be funds available to get these products in stock for students. But there always seems to be money to get new uniforms or equipment for the football team. What the heck? Sophomores Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are 100% DONE with the leadership in their school blowing off their complaints and their needs, so they take matters into their own hands in this brilliant graphic novel by the creators of The Mean Magenta webcomic Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann.

Go With the Flow is crucial reading for everyone, because the problem of access to and affordability of feminine hygiene products is a growing crisis. Using a microcosm of high school, Go With the Flow illustrates the value placed on sports programs versus providing free and accessible pads and tampons to their students. As the girls come together to brainstorm solutions, they realize that this isn’t just a schoolwide problem, it’s a global problem. Using statistics, research, and infographics, Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann blend these facts and figures in with a storyline that will empower and rile up female-identifying readers – and hopefully male- and non-binary-identifying readers, too! There’s an LGBTQ+ positive subplot, fleshed-out, likable and relatable characters (I cringed in sympathetic recognition as the new girl bleeds through her pants on her first day at school). The two-color artwork will be familiar to Mean Magenta readers. Back matter includes comprehensive information about menstrual equality, including links to further reading.

Give this to your realistic graphic novel readers first and let them spread the word. Have menstrual equity resources available for anyone who wants them. Here are a few to start:

The ACLU’s Menstrual Equity Handbook

Period.org: The Menstrual Movement

PBS.org: How Access to Period Products Removes a Barrier to Education

Girls Scouts NY: These Girl Scouts Brought “Menstrual Equity” to 200 Brooklyn Schools

BRAWS.org: Bringing Resources to Aid Women’s Shelters

Tennessean: Lack of Feminine Hygiene Products Keep Girls Out of School

 

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Realistic Fiction

Extravaganza at the Plaza and a word from author Lauren L. Wohl

Extravaganza at the Plaza, by Lauren L. Wohl/Illustrated by Mark Tuchman, (Aug. 2018, Persnickety Press), $14.95, ISBN: 9781943978311

Ages 7-11

Third graders Hannah, and her best friend, Nico, walk by an abandoned theater in their neighborhood and decide it’s time to take action. Their town needs a good theater, after all: there are graduations and school concerts to be held, and everyone’s tired of traveling to nearby towns to see movies. There is a lot of work to be done, but Hannah is determined to make things happen! This companion to 2017’s Blueberry Bonanza is an upbeat story of how a community comes together with a goal in mind: to rehabilitate a public space!

Extravaganza is a good choice for middle graders. Hannah and Nico, along with their local mayor, have a lot to teach kids about taking action. The first place Hannah goes when she starts on her mission: the library! Her local librarian helps her look up the building’s owner and construction details, plus local history regarding the building. Hannah uses this information to learn what can be done, who to speak to, and how to get more help on board for her idea. Hannah is also a sympathetic character; she wants to make this her own pet project and struggles with so many people being part of it – kids will appreciate the feeling of wanting to work on a passion project, and the potential frustration of having someone else take the credit for their work. There’s discussions of fundraising, donor fatigue (when Hannah suggests sending postcards or calling people about donating, her mother steps in to gently nix that), and the necessities of renovating a building – find the owner; get it inspected; hire the right professionals – and, most importantly, the planning process for each task! Black and white illustrations throughout add a human face to the story, and the big ending will have kids wondering what they could do to make positive change in their own neighborhoods.

Lauren L. Wohl writes good stories about kids making the difference in their neighborhoods. Her Raccoon River Kids have started their own businesses (Blueberry Bonanza); motivated an entire town to come together to renovate a public space (Extravaganza at the Plaza), and, later this year, they’ll be starting a pet showcase to find homes for homeless pets (Zooapalooza). The Raccoon River books are a great precursor to books like The Donut Fix by Jessie Janowitz.

 

And now, a note from author Lauren L. Wohl!

MY FAVORITE LIBRARY MOMENTS

I grew up in Brooklynand believe me when I tell you, it was not the cool place it is today.  It was just home to many working familiesmade up of neighborhoods which were small and close and often built on shared values and experiences.

There was a branch of the Brooklyn Public Library eight blocks from home. For as long as I can remember, my dad and I walked to the library every Saturday morning. At each visit, he would borrow one of the color fairy tale collections by Andrew Lang. I dont recall how many there were, but I can still picture The Blue Fairy Book,The Purple Fairy Book, and The Rainbow Fairy Book. During the week that followed, he or my mom would read one whole story every night. We had favorites in each color, and we knew that evenif tonights story wasnt one of those, tomorrows or the next days would be.  

My dad also borrowed a book for himself for subwayreading back and forth to his job in Manhattan. Itoo, would pick a book to read on my own. 

The next week, we would return our books to the librarian who was always interested in what I liked and what I didnt. We engaged in conversations about the books(I thought she had read EVERYTHING in the library.). She took my opinions seriously. That interest and that respect mattered the world to me.

By the time I was in fourth grade, the librarian started to put aside three books she picked out just for me. She knew what my preferences were from the many book discussions we had hadShe picked winners just about every timeI felt so specially treated.

When I went through a period of reading books that she didnt thinkworthy, she would make sure the second selection of that Saturday met her standard. Slowly I developed skills to find books that challenged me and pleased me; humor that made me giggle; dramas that wrapped me inside them; nonfiction that answered my questions; and family and friend stories that warmed my heart.

When the city decided it was time to develop the area where our library stood, they moved the branch closer to our house. It was easier, sure, but I missed the long walks with my dad. I was in junior high by then, old enough to walk to this new location on my own.  But I missed that old library; I still do. Its impact was long-lasting, and many years later I know those Saturday mornings were a part of my decision to go to graduate school in library science.

When I finally completed my degree, my husband, young son and I took a vacation to Washington DC to celebrate. I wanted to explore thLibrary of Congress.

My husband called ahead, so that when I showed up, the library was ready for me with a special brand-new librarian tour. I saw rooms the public didnt usually see. I touched history; it surrounded me. Every step was thrilling, every detail memorable. Right then was when I knew I had made the right decision.