Posted in Adventure, Espionage, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Bridget returns in Spy to the Rescue!

bridgetwilderBridget Wilder: Spy to the Rescue, by Jonathan Bernstein, (May 2016, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062382696

Recommended for ages 9-13

Middle school spy-in-the-making Bridget Wilder is not having a great re-entry to “normal” society after being recruited by her former super-spy biological father in Bridget Wilder: Spy-in-Training. The agency that recruited her? Fake. Her super spy dad? Retired, and wants a “normal” relationship with his daughter (read: BORING). Her obnoxious brother is dating someone even more annoying, her best friend has moved across the country, and she’s being framed by someone for stealing cheerleading secrets AND ruining the birthday party of the season! Bridget senses something amiss, though; her spy instincts kick in and she decides to investigate.

Just when you think you’re about to read a fun, fluff middle school drama about mean girls, though, Jonathan Bernstein hits you with the real story: Bridget’s dad goes missing, and she’s pulled back into the spy game. Mean girls have nothing on an international crime syndicate, and Bridget’s going to need all of her skills, plus some new ones, to save her dad, her family, and herself.

I LOVED this book. Written in the first person from Bridget’s point of view, we get a narrator who’s 100% tween/teen girl: smart, funny, sarcastic, and a good kid who cares about her often wacky, extended family. I also love that we get an adopted heroine – yay for adoptees! – who refers to her parents and her siblings as her parents and her siblings, not her “adoptive family” like we see ad nauseum (I’m looking at you, Olympic coverage of Simone Biles and her family). Bridget has her family, and when her long-last dad reappears, he wants a relationship with her, but it’s her choice, and it involves her whole family; it’s not this long last dad appears, daughter runs off with him like the family who raised her never existed scenario, and I am grateful to Jonathan Bernstein for giving us a great, positive portrayal of an adoptee’s relationship to her family. Her entire family. It’s a bit of a touchy spot, being an adoptee myself, so when I find good writing, I applaud it.

But back to the story. Spy to the Rescue is fast-paced and fun. There’s some intrigue, there’s a lot of action, great dialogue, and continued strong character development. I booktalked Bridget Wilder: Spy-in-Training to my Corona Kids during my Spy Week program at the library, and they loved it, especially coming off the Spy Kids movie day, when they were empowered to be spies and save the grownups for a change. Wait until I put this one on the shelves, and let them know that a third book will be coming next year.

If you have action fiction fans, spy fans, or kids who enjoy a good book with a nice dose of girl power, add Bridget Wilder to your collection. Check out Jonathan Bernstein’s author webpage for more about Bridget and her author, Jonathan Bernstein.

Check out the book trailer for Spy in Training right here:

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

A teaspoonful of drama queen: Dara Palmer’s Major Drama

dara palmerDara Palmer’s Major Drama, by Emma Shevah (July 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492631385

Recommended for ages 8-13

Dara Palmer was born to be a star: just ask her, she’ll tell you.  But when she’s passed over – once again – for a part in the school play, The Sound of Music, Dara wonders whether it’s because she looks different. Was she passed over to be Maria because she doesn’t look like a typical fraulein? It’s not, as she learns: she just can’t act. Or rather, she overacts. But this episode starts Dara thinking about her life: about being Cambodian, about being an adoptee, and about not seeing any actresses or models who look like her. And then, it hits her: she’s going to write a play about her own life. Because she has to be the star of that, right?

Emma Shevah nails it again. I loved her voice as Amber in Dream On, Amber; here, she captures another tween who’s facing some big issues: realizing the world doesn’t revolve around her, and feeling like one person “on the inside” while looking like a different person “on the outside”. As an adoptee, she wonders about her birth parents and the circumstances that led her to the Happy Family home where she ended up, ultimately being adopted by her British family. As she becomes more aware of who she is – beyond her daydreams of marrying her British actor crush – she notices that no one looks like her in Hollywood, or on the covers of magazines, and this motivates her to action. She also realizes what fair-weather friends are, and handles it with a minimum of angst, which is beautifully done.

Dara Palmer’s Major Drama has received a starred review from School Library Journal. Booktalk this with Shevah’s first book, Dream On, Amber, and  Nancy Cavanaugh’s Just Like Me.  A great add to reading lists and collections all around for its discussions about adoption, diversity, and ethnicity.

 

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

Spotlight On: Just Like Me, by Nancy Cavanaugh

I recently raved about how much I loved Just Like Me, by Nancy Cavanaugh. Now, enjoy this spotlight and excerpt from Just Like Me – and make sure to enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win your own copy of the book!

9781492604273-PR

Just Like Me, By Nancy J. Cavanaugh (April 5, 2016; Hardcover, ISBN 9781492604273)

Book Info:

Title: Just Like Me

Author: Nancy J. Cavanaugh

Release Date: April 5, 2016

Publisher: Sourcebooks Jabberwocky

Praise for Just Like Me

“A tender and honest story about a girl trying to find her place in the world, and the thread that connects us all.” – Liesl Shurtliff, Author of Rump: The True Story of Rumpelstiltskin

“A heartwarming and tender story about the universal struggle of yearning to be an individual while longing to fit in.” -Karen Harrington, author of Sure Signs of Crazy

“[A] charming and refreshingly wholesome coming-of-age story….Filled with slapstick humor and fast-paced action, the novel will engage reluctant readers, while offering fuel for deep contemplation by those ready to tackle questions of identity and belonging.” –School Library Journal

“From pillow fights to pinkie promises, sock wars to s’mores, a red thread connects this energetic summer-camp story with Julia’s deeper journey to accept herself, her adoption, and her Chinese roots.” -Megan McDonald, award-winning and bestselling author of the Judy Moody series and Sisters Club trilogy

Summary:

Who eats Cheetos with chopsticks?! Avery and Becca, my “Chinese Sisters,” that’s who. We’re not really sisters—we were just adopted from the same orphanage. And we’re nothing alike. They like egg rolls, and I like pizza. They’re wave around Chinese fans, and I pretend like I don’t know them.

Which is not easy since we’re all going to summer camp to “bond.” (Thanks, Mom.) To make everything worse, we have to journal about our time at camp so the adoption agency can do some kind of “where are they now” newsletter. I’ll tell you where I am: At Camp Little Big Lake in a cabin with five other girls who aren’t getting along, competing for a camp trophy and losing (badly), wondering how I got here…and where I belong.

Told through a mix of traditional narrative and journal entries, don’t miss this funny, surprisingly sweet summer read!

Find Just Like Me on Goodreads!

Buy Links:

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Jacket Flap Author PhotoAbout the Author:

NANCY J. CAVANAUGH is an award-winning author and former teacher and librarian at an elementary school. Nancy lives in Chicago, IL, with her husband and daughter but flies South to Florida for the winter. Visit nancyjcavanaugh.com for more.

Social Networking Links:

Website- http://www.nancyjcavanaugh.com/

Facebook- https://www.facebook.com/Nancy-J-Cavanaugh-281062665333065/

Twitter- https://twitter.com/NancyJCavanaugh

Excerpt from Just Like Me:

The camp bus sputtered and chugged up the interstate, sounding as if this might be its last trip. Avery sat across the aisle from me with her earbuds on, practicing a Chinese vocabulary lesson. Becca sat next to her, chewing on a straw and watching a soccer match on her cell phone.

“Ni hao ma,” Avery said, her chin-length hair with bangs making her look studious in her thick, black-framed glasses.

When she saw me looking at her, she pulled out one earbud and offered it to me.

Did she really think I wanted to learn Chinese with her?

“Technically the lesson I’m working on is review, but I could teach you the basics if you want.”

I looked around at all the kids on the bus staring at her and shook my head.

“GO! GO! GO!” Becca yelled, pumping her fist in the air as she cheered for Spain’s soccer team.

Her hair spilled out of her ponytail as if she were playing in the soccer game instead of just watching it. “Booyah! Score!”

As kids stood up on the bus to see what all the yelling was about, I slid down in my seat, and the driver gave us that “death look” in her rearview mirror. The one that said, “If I have to stop this bus, somebody’s gonna get it…”

“Hey, Julia!” Becca yelled, holding up her phone. “Wanna watch with me? The game just went into overtime!”

“No thanks.”

Crowding around a tiny phone screen and watching people kick a soccer ball around was not my idea of fun.

My idea of fun was craft camp at the park district with my best friend, Madison, but Mom said I had the rest of the summer to do that.

Instead I was heading north toward Wisconsin to Camp Little Big Woods, but at least that was better than heading south toward Indiana for Summer Palace Chinese Culture Camp.

As soon as we “graciously” agreed to be the subjects of Ms. Marcia’s adoption article, she suggested that the three of us spend a week together making paper lanterns and learning the pinyin alphabet at culture camp.

“It will be a great way for you girls to reconnect not only with each other, but also with your heritage,” Ms. Marcia had gushed.

She loved treating us as if we were two instead of almost twelve.

But I said there was no way I was going to eat Chinese food three times a day and do tai chi every morning, so we settled on the sleepaway camp Avery and Becca went to every year.

I reached into the pocket of my suitcase and pulled out the plastic lacing of the gimp friendship bracelet I had started a few days ago. I had planned to finish it before camp so that I could give it to Madison when I said good-bye to her, but I’d run out of time. I decided I’d try to finish it while I was at camp and mail it to her along with a nice, long letter saying how much I missed her.

“Hey, Julia!” Becca yelled. “What’s that?”

“Nothing,” I said. “Just a friendship bracelet for my friend Madison.”

“COOL!” Becca yelled. “We should totally make those for each other in the arts-and-crafts room at camp.”

She went back to her straw-chewing and her tiny-phone-screen soccer game.

Friendship bracelets for the three of us? I guess “technically” as Avery would say, the three of us were friends. But even though “technically” I had known Avery and Becca longer than I had known my parents, I couldn’t imagine ever thinking of them as the friendship-bracelet kind of friends.

What are your thoughts on the Chinese proverb: “An invisible red thread connects those destined to meet regardless of time, place, or circumstances. The thread may stretch or tangle, but never break.”

Dear Ms. Marcia,

I’ve been hearing about this red thread for as long as I can remember, but I cannot imagine a thread, of any color—red, blue, purple, orange, or green—connecting Avery, Becca, and me. And if by some chance there really is a thread, I’m pretty sure this trip to camp might just be enough to snap that thing like an old rubber band, breaking it once and for all. Then that Chinese proverb would be history in a whole new way.

Julia

ALSO BY NANCY J. CAVANAUGH

always abigailAlways, Abigail

Summary:

Abigail and her two best friends are poised for a life of pom-poms and popularity. But not only does Abigail end up in a different homeroom, she doesn’t make the squad. Then everyone’s least favorite teacher pairs Abigail up with the school’s biggest outcast for a year-long Friendly Letter Assignment. Abigail can hardly believe her bad luck! As her so-called best friends and dreams of pom pom fame start to slip away, Abigail has to choose between the little bit of popularity she has left or letting it go to be a true friend.

Goodreads

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Apple

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IndieBound

ratchetThis Journal Belongs to Ratchet

Summary:

It’s the first day of school for all the kids in the neighborhood. But not for me. I’m homeschooled. That means nothing new. No new book bag, no new clothes, and no new friends.

The best I’ve got is this notebook. I’m supposed to use it for my writing assignments, but my dad never checks. Here’s what I’m really going to use it for:

Ratchet’s Top Secret Plan

Turn my old, recycled, freakish, friendless life into something shiny and new.

This Florida State Book Award gold medal winner is a heartfelt story about an unconventional girl’s quest to make a friend, save a park, and find her own definition of normal.

Goodreads

Buy Links:

Amazon

Apple

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BooksAMillion

!ndigo

Indiebound

Don’t forget to enter a Rafflecopter giveaway for a chance to win one of 2 Copies of Just Like Me! Runs March 8th-April 30th (U.S. and Canada only)

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Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Just Like Me examines adoption’s internal narrative

just like meJust Like Me, by Nancy J. Cavanaugh (April 2016, Sourcebooks Jabberwocky), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492604273

Recommended for ages 9-14

Julia is on her way to summer camp with her friends, Avery and Becca. It’s a little more than a regular week away at camp with friends, though – Avery, Becca, and Julia are “Chinese sisters” – the three girls were adopted from the same Chinese orphanage as babies, and their parents have stayed in touch. While Avery and Becca eat Cheetos with chopsticks and don’t mind talking about their Chinese heritage, Julia has conficting feelings. Becca thinks that Julia hates being Chinese, but that’s not it at all – while the world sees Julia as Chinese, she sees herself as Irish and Italian, like the parents who are raising her and who love her. But she also wonders about the birth mother who gave her up.

Told in alternating journal entries and narratives, this is Julia’s story. It’s told in the first person from her point of view and her journal articles provoke her to think more deeply as the novel progresses. Through Julia’s eyes, we see the other girls develop as she gets to know them.

Just Like Me is a great summer camp story about a bunch of girls who have to learn to get along: Julia, Avery, and Becca end up in a cabin with three other girls who bring some tension of their own, and the group has to learn to get along or do a lot of clean-up duty! But digging deeper, Just Like Me is a story that peels away the faces we show to everyone, only to discover that no matter how different people may think they are, they’re more alike than anyone can imagine. Every family has rough spots – it’s how we as individuals cope with them that makes us different. The story is ultimately about a group of girls who learn to embrace who they are, individually, and embrace one another for their similarities and celebrate their differences.

It’s also a touching story about figuring out who you are when you feel like you have a giant blind spot in the middle of your life. Nancy Cavanaugh wrote this story, inspired by her own daughter’s adoption story; as an adoptee myself, I found myself particularly drawn into Julia’s journal articles. Julia’s thoughts could have come from me, had I kept a journal at that age:

“Most of the time, I don’t even think about being adopted. …even though my mom doesn’t always want to admit it, people do sometimes treat me differently. Like the time in third grade when my mom dropped me off at a classmate’s birthday party, and when my classmate’s cousin saw my mom, she asked me if I knew who my ‘real’ mom was. And then there was another time when I heard a lady at the grocery store ask Mom if she had any children of her ‘own.'”

Wow. Like Julia, I’m Italian and Irish, just like my parents. “On the inside”, I’m French-Canadian. I look pretty similar to my parents, but those scenarios are real, and they hit hard. I’m 45 and still get asked if I know who my “real” mom is. It took a long time for me to be able to respond, “Yeah, I do; she’s at work, probably wondering why I haven’t called to let her know I’m home from school yet.” And it still irritates me if someone deigns to ask me that.

“Did my birth mom love me?”

It’s the question you probably won’t get an answer to. I think about it on my birthday now, not as often as I used to. But I’d like to think that she did in her own way, because she took care of herself well enough to make sure I was born healthy, and made sure I was adopted by a family that would love me and take care of me.

What I’m trying to say here is, Just Like Me is required reading, because Nancy Cavanaugh – already a constant on my library shelves, thanks to books like Always, Abigail and This Journal Belongs to Ratchet

Visit Nancy J. Cavanaugh’s author website and learn more about her books, download educator guides, and find out about author visits.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Zaria Fierce brings Norse myth to modern adventure!

Take a timid girl, put her in a seemingly impossible situation, and you’ll find out what she’s really made of. Zaria Fierce, a 13 year-old living with her adoptive family in Norway, finds herself up against trolls and magical creatures of all sorts when she heads to school one morning and is confronted by Olaf, a troll – you got it – from under a bridge. She thinks she’s outsmarted the big creep, but he gets the last laugh when he kidnaps her best friend, Christoffer. Now, it’s up to Zaria and her friends to save Christoffer, but Zaria’s in for a wild ride with some big revelations along the way!

zaria fiere_1

Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest, by Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750017

Zaria Fierce and the Secret of Gloomwood Forest lays the groundwork for a new series that brings elements of Norse myth to modern day. Neither Loki nor Odin are stirring up trouble here, though – we’ve got the trolls making trouble, some elves, and dwarves, enchanted forests, and magic items aplenty here. There are secrets revealed and some big decisions Zaria must make – and they’re not always the right ones. She’s a girl with a lot of heart and has friends who quibble with her and each other, but would do anything for her. 

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Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Swordby Keira Gillet/Illustrated by Eoghan Kerrigan, (2015, self-published), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1942750031

The story continues in Zaria Fierce and the Enchanted Drakeland Sword. Armed with a better understand of who she and what she needs to do, Zaria and her friends are back and trying to fix a major mistake she made while trying to free Christoffer. We’ve got pirate ships and giants in this story, and a very creepy doppleganger making some trouble for Zaria. Can she get hold of the enchanted Drakeland sword and foil Olaf’s plans?

The stories are written and illustrated in a manner that recalls fantasy and adventure stories I read as a kid. The black and white fantasy sketches are beautiful and creepy – I love the white stag and the deliciously creepy Olaf – and brings a lot of imagination to the page.

Self-published by the author, the books can be purchased via Amazon (I’ve linked each title to its Amazon page below the cover shots). You can find a book trailer and Zaria Fierce coloring sheets on Keira Gillett’s website, sign up for her newsletter, and get a countdown to the next book in the Zaria Fierce trilogy. Keep an eye out for an author interview with Keira Gillett, right here, very soon!

Posted in Animal Fiction

Quackers – A story about fitting in and standing out

quackers_1Quackers, by Liz Wong (Mar. 2016, Knopf Books for Young Readers) $15.99, ISBN: 978-0-553-51155-0

Recommended for ages 3-7

“Quackers is a duck. He knows he is a duck because he lives at the duck pond with all the other ducks.”

Quackers is the story of a cat who’s grown up with ducks. He doesn’t see himself as anything other than a duck, and neither do the ducks around him. But sometimes, Quackers doesn’t feel like he quite fits in. He has trouble making himself understood, he’s not in love with the food, and he really, really hates getting wet! One day, when Quackers meets Mittens, he learns that he’s what others call a cat – he’s not a duck at all! He tries to fully embrace his feline side, but he ends up missing the duck life. And that’s when Quackers learns that bringing all the parts of your different backgrounds together makes for a wonderful feeling. .

Quackers is a great book to have on hand for read-alouds and libraries with multicultural populations. It’s a great book to give to an adoptive family as a welcome home gift for baby, too! Quackers is a duck – no one thinks any differently. Once he learns that he’s a cat, though, he tries to throw himself into being a cat – but when you’ve been raised lovingly by one group, why walk away? This is the heart of the story, and it’s when Quackers realizes that he can be a cat and be a duck, he’s happiest. Kids from different backgrounds will learn that they can embrace more than one culture, whether it’s a culture they’re adopting, like moving to a new city/state/country, or a culture that they’ve been adopted into.

On a different note, Quackers works for all kids who may feel like they don’t fit in, for whatever reason. I’d pair this with Harvey Fierstein’s The Sissy Duckling to reach LGBT kids and kids being raised by LGBT families. Quackers teaches kids (and their caregivers!) to embrace themselves first and foremost – you can’t ask for a better message than that.

The art, created digitally and with watercolor, is adorable and soft, with soothing greens and teals for the water and grass. The text is set off almost like an old photo album, placed in small text boxes with a font that looks almost handwritten. Kids will love reading this book and adults will love reading it to them. Take a look at some of the art, below.

 

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You can find more of Liz Wong’s illustrations at her website.