Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Go read Rust in the Root RIGHT NOW!

Rust in the Root, by Justina Ireland, (Sept. 2022, Balzer + Bray), $18.99, ISBN: 9780063038226

Ages 14+

Justina Ireland’s new historical fantasy is everything that other historical fantasy about magicians in the 1920s and 1930s should have been. Set in 1937, Laura Ann Langston arrives in New York, from her small town in Pennsylvania. She wants to earn her mage’s license so she can become a baker to the stars, but fate has a curve ball waiting. She takes a she applies for a job with the Colored Auxiliary of the Bureau of the Arcane’s Conservation Corps: magic exists in this history, and like everything else at the time, it’s segregated. Ireland expertly weaves U.S. history into her fantasy to give us an incredible story where white Necromancers and Mechomancers – magic with metal – threaten the world’s structure; the Auxiliary, made up with different areas of magic users, use natural means to combat them. Sent into the Ohio Deep Blight – an area of Ohio under attack from Necromancy – and Laura, now known as the Peregrine, ventures into the Blight with her mentor, the Skylark, and a group of apprentices. When they arrive in Ohio, they discover a deep, evil purpose behind the disappearance of the previous team sent out, and that their own lives are in danger. Justina Ireland views American history through a social lens and brings to life a fantasy that makes perfect sense. Black and white photos run throughout, with wry observations from Peregrine; missives from the Skylark will keep you guessing until the end.¬†Incredible storytelling and world-building make this one of the best books I’ve read this year. Read this, booktalk this, and give it to history and fantasy fans alike.

Rust in the Root has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, School Library Journal, and Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Don’t miss Tracey Baptiste’s Looking for a Jumbie!

I have been a fan of Tracey Baptiste’s Jumbies series since the first one hit shelves in 2015. They’re such a rich, spooky mix of Caribbean folklore and horror, with smart characters and fantastic pacing: every kid in my library knows that if they ask me for something scary, they’re going to get a Jumbies book handed to them. Fast forward six years, and Tracey Baptiste has a Jumbies picture book, so that I can start getting my itty bitties into all things Jumbie. Start them early, right?

Looking for a Jumbie, by Tracey Baptiste/Illustrated by Amber Ren,
(Sept. 2021, Balzer + Bray), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062970817
Ages 4-8

Naya is a little girl who just knows jumbies are real, even if her Mama says they only exist in stories. Naya heads off, Going on a Bear Hunt-style, to find some, and makes some… interesting friends along the way. Repeated, familiar phrasing that may remind readers of the classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt runs throughout the book as Naya meets a new friend to join her quest: “We’re looking for a jumbie. We’re going to find a scary one”. She meets several interesting characters in the woods, all who seem to meet the characteristics of well-known jumbies (especially for older siblings and parents who’ve read the novels!), but they don’t seem terribly mean at all. They all manage to convince Naya that they’re not the monsters she’s looking for, and join her quest. Vibrant digital illustrations are colorful and eye-catching, and Naya, a young girl of color, is a brave heroine who forges through each spread. Jumbies are a friendly a group of monsters, and while Naya provides informational descriptions of these spooky monsters, the colorful group are very friendly and cartoon-like in appearance.¬†Looking for a Jumbie could be a wonderful story to read at bedtime to kids who may be worried about things that go bump in the night, as jumbies offer practical reasons for their appearances that have nothing to do with being a monster. No nightmares here! I love, love, love this book.

Tracey Baptiste offers a field guide to jumbies on her website, along with further resources on her Jumbies novels for anyone interested in learning more.

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

Things That Surprise You is touching, funny… giggles and tissues needed!

Things That Surprise You, by Jennifer Maschari, (Aug. 2017, Balzer + Bray), $16.99, ISBN: 9780062438928

Recommended for readers 10-13

Best friends Emily and Hazel are about to start middle school. They’ve done just about everything together, and Emily just wants things to stay the same. You can’t blame Emily; she’s had too much change over the last year, with her parents’ divorce and her sister , Mina, being treated for an eating disorder. But Hazel is changing. She’s already in with a new crowd at school – a crowd that isn’t into Emily at all – and she wants to be different. While Emily is still into their fandom, The Unicorn Chronicles, and crafting, Hazel is into lip gloss, clothes, and getting boys at school to notice her.

Things That Surprise You is a compulsively readable novel about growing up and moving on; negotiating change; making new friends, and most importantly, discovering oneself. Emily is so likable, you just want to defend her and comfort her. Older sister Mina is on her own painful journey; she could easily have become a bitter antagonist, but is written with care and compassion that will encourage readers to root for her, too. Their mother is doing the best she can with what she has, and their father just can’t cope, so he doesn’t. Each parent’s actions illustrate to kids that adults may not have all the answers, and that we make lousy decisions, too. I enjoyed reading about every character in this book, including the mean girls, who are vapid and awful and make us want to see Emily succeed even more.

This is a great book for discussion groups, because the subplots that support the main plot are all worthy discussion topics on their own: going with or against the crowd, eating disorders, self-acceptance, and navigating family relationships are just some of the things that come up. I’d love to see this on summer reading lists for next year. Nudge, nudge, teachers!

Jennifer Maschari is a classroom teacher and the author of The Remarkable Journey of Charlie Price and Things That Surprise You. She is hard at work on her next middle grade novel with Balzer+Bray/HarperCollins. Jennifer lives in Ohio with her husband and stinky (yet noble) English bulldogs, Oliver and Hank. To learn more, and to download a free guide, visit Jennifer’s author website.


One lucky winner will receive a copy of Things That Surprise You… PLUS, one grand prize winner will receive their very own Crafty Unicorn Kit! The prize includes a fun craft kit, a copy of Things That Surprise You, unicorn stickers, and puzzle cards! Enter here – don’t miss out!

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

Dumplin’ – Finally, a healthy, body-positive teen!

dumplinDumplin’, by Julie Murphy (Sept. 2015, Balzer & Bray), $17.99, ISBN: 9780062327185

Recommended for ages 13+

Willowdean Dickson is a fat girl. That’s not an insult, by the way – she’ll tell you she’s a fat girl, but she’s not bothered about it. She wishes everyone else would get a grip, though, especially her mom, who also coordinates the local annual beauty pageant, which is THE event of the year.

Will, as she likes to be called, is mourning the death of her Aunt Lucy, who was like a second mother to her. Lucy, who was morbidly obese, died in her early 30s from a massive heart attack, so that’s not helping keep Will’s mom – who calls her Dumplin’ – off her case.

The thing is, she’s confident. But when her co-worker, the gorgeous new kid, Bo, takes notice of her, she feels different. She can just imagine what everyone will say about her if they see her and Bo together, and that really stresses her out. To get back some of her confidence and pay tribute to Lucy, Will decides to enter her the big beauty pageant, which spurs a few girls at school to join her. Girls that would never have had the guts to try before. Now, Will finds herself at odds with her best friend, Ellen, and the unofficial leader of this revolution. Dolly Parton, save us!

Told in the first person in Willowdean’s voice, Dumplin’ is brilliant. Will is sarcastic and self-assured, and really, really hates this lack of confidence that hits her just as the gorgeous guy takes notice of her. There’s Dolly Parton, making out under the Texas stars, and drag queens, along with a heroine that everyone should aspire to. Crank up Jolene, sit back, and enjoy this book.