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

Hit the Court with The Fifth Quarter

The Fifth Quarter, by Mike Dawson, (May 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250244185

Ages 8-12

Lori Block loves being on her school basketball team, even if she and her friends are relegated to playing “the fifth quarter” – the extra period where the not-so-good kids play and the points don’t count. Determined to get better, she practices and takes part in different basketball camps, but she’s got to learn how to finesse her social interactions: she can come off as brusque or downright mean to players she doesn’t think match her own drive to succeed. Meanwhile, her mom’s considering running for local office, taking more time away from Lori. Can Lori develop her own self-confidence, learn to navigate everyday social situations, and up her basketball game?

The Fifth Quarter is a good sports story and a good school story. Lori is a relatable character; she’s a fourth grader dealing with some big feelings: she’s got two younger siblings constantly clamoring for her parents’ attention; she gets frustrated by friends who don’t share her consuming passion for basketball, and may even be slightly threatened when a new friend shows up to play what she may feel is “her” sport. When her mom decides to run for public office, it adds another layer of frustration and stress to Lori’s life; it’s even more competition for her mother’s time, helping her mom campaign will take time away from basketball practice, AND since her mother is running against a school friend’s father, she’s worried that it will affect her friendship. That’s a lot for a fourth grader! Her parents are supportive and encouraging, and her friends stand firm and call Lori out when they see her being unreasonable, letting readers know that it’s okay to feel these things, but not okay to act negatively on those feelings. Readers will see themselves in Lori, and hopefully, her friends, too. A smart book that respects its readers, with artwork that realistic fiction graphic novel readers will recognize and enjoy, The Fifth Quarter is good reading for all graphic novel/realistic fiction readers. Suggest books like Pippa Park Raises Her Game, by Erin Yun, Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Cathy Johnson’s The Breakaways, and Jason Reynolds’s Track series.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.
Posted in Graphic Novels, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

March Graphic Novels Roundup

I haven’t done a roundup in a while, but I’m actually a little ahead of the game, so let’s do it! Here’s what’s good for March.

 

Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang, (March 2020, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626720794

Ages 12+

Gene Luen Yang is back, and Dragon Hoops is a memoir of a year following the basketball team during the 2014-15 season at the high school where he taught, Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California. Gene wants to write a new graphic novel – at the same time he’s being courted by DC Comics to write a new Superman story – and he’s wracking his brain, coming up with options. He isn’t really a sports guy, but he decides to explore the Bishop O’Dowd varsity basketball team, after hearing all the buzz in the school hallways. He approaches the men’s varsity coach, Lou Richie, and starts writing the story of the team, the story of the young men on the team, and the pursuit of the California State Championships.

I’m not a big sports fan, and you don’t need to be to read Dragon Hoops. It’s the story of the people behind the team, and it’s exciting to read about these diverse young men, their stories, and their drive. It’s great to see Gene Yang’s journey from someone who has zero interest in sports to becoming a rabid fan of the team, because of the connections formed with the players and Coach Lou. It’s also very much Gene Yang’s story as he struggles with a work-life balance, whether or not to take on the extra work – and excitement! – that Superman would bring, and his struggle to address a difficult chapter in Bishop O’Dowd’s history.

The artwork is realistic with a cartoony feel, and the dialogue and pacing is great. Gene Yang gets readers excited for each game, and builds relationships between reader and players/coaches by interspersing biographical chapters and pivotal games in the race for the championship. He has a powerful thread through each personal story, too: each character, including Yang, has a moment when they step outside their comfort zone to pursue something greater; something Yang uses a literal “step” to illustrate. Yang steps across the street from the classrooms to the gym to meet with Coach Lou; Coach Lou steps across the street to go from public school to Bishop O’Dowd as a teen; Sendra Berenson, the inventor of women’s basketball in in 1892 took a step into a gymnasium to teach the young women in her care a new sport she’d read about; player Jeevin Sandhu, a student and practicing Sikh, takes a step into a Catholic high school so he can play basketball. Gene Yang includes the evolution of basketball from its creation to the present, and the big role of Catholic schools in high school basketball; both things I knew nothing about and found really interesting. Back matter includes comprehensive notes and a bibliography. Catch a preview of Dragon Hoops, courtesy of EW magazine.

 

The Phantom Twin, by Lisa Brown, (March 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626729247

Ages 12+

This eerie tale of twins, sideshows, and hauntings is perfect for tweens and teens who love their books on the creepier side. If you have readers who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Coraline, or loved Mary Downing Hahn’s books, this is the book to hand them.

At the turn of the 20th century, Isabel and Jane are conjoined twins, sold to a sideshow by their family, where they find a family among the “freaks” in the freak show. The two sisters are opposites, with Jane being the dominant personality. Where Iss would rather stay home, Jane wants to go out, and since she has more motor control over their shared body, Iss finds herself dragged along. Jane starts dating a surgeon who wants to separate them; despite Iss’s misgivings, Jane agrees: but doesn’t survive the surgery. Iss is left to face life on her own, but feels the phantom of her sister ever-present, like a phantom limb. Iss returns to the carnival, desperate for familiarity and to rebuild her life. Jane, still the dominant personality, tries to assert herself, and Iss finds herself rebelling against her sideshow family and her sister’s memory, as she tries to negotiate a life on her own and free of others’ expectations.

The Phantom Twin is fabulously creepy with an upbeat twist. It’s a feminist tale and a story of life on the fringes as much as it’s a story of grief, loss, and starting over. Back matter includes an author’s note on sideshows, carnival lingo, and more resources for further reading.

Posted in Uncategorized

Meet Pippa Park, a new middle grade book from Erin Yun and Fabled Films!

Pippa Park Raises Her Game, by Erin Yun, (Feb. 2020, Fabled Films Press), $15.99, ISBN: 978-1944020262

Ages 9-13

Korean-American seventh grader Pippa Park’s is a juggler: living with her older sister and brother-in-law, rather than her Mom, in Korea, she juggles the weight of their expectations; she juggles her responsibilities at home and school, and she juggles schoolwork with her first love, basketball. She receives an unexpected basketball scholarship to an affluent private school, Lakeview Private, and decides to reinvent herself: she doesn’t want to stand out as the “scholarship student”, especially among the rich kids, and especially among the members of the basketball team – her former middle school’s rivals! But reinventing herself comes with a price, and Pippa discovers that she’s getting further away from the person she wants to be while trying to keep pace with the Royals, Lakeview’s version of Queen Bees/Mean Girls/the In-Crowd. She can’t turn to her sister; she can’t turn to her best friend, who won’t talk to her anymore; and she certainly can’t turn to the Royals. When a series of antagonistic social media messages start showing up, threatening to expose Pippa’s real life, she really feels lost.

Inspired by Charles Dickens’s Great Expectations, Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a relatable middle grade story about a middle schooler dealing with the school stress, family stress,  an unrequited crush (with his own family stress), and the stress of keeping her real life secret from her glam friends at school. She’s witty and dorky and just wants to do the right thing, but why is the right thing so hard to do? We want Pippa to get it right, because she’s us.

Kudos to Erin Yun for making The Royals a complex, smart group of characters, too! They’re not vapid Mean Girls, even if some of them – not all, by the way – are straight-up stereotypical. First off, they’re not cheerleaders! Let’s hear it for breaking the stereotype! They are unapologetically feminine, and they’re all business on the basketball court, showing readers that real girls don’t always wear pom-poms; sometimes, they slam dunk. There’s an interesting subplot with Pippa’s tutor-turned-crush, Eliot, and his family’s long-standing emotional baggage, which feeds nicely into Pippa’s main story.

Pippa Park Raises Her Game is a slam-dunk for middle grade readers. It’s smart, funny, and gives readers a heroine they can root for.

Psst… keep your eye on the Pippa Park GoodReads page. Maybe add it to your “To-Read”. I’ve got word there may be a giveaway coming in a few weeks.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen

Sports readers, check out the Blacktop series

Justin #1 (Blacktop), by LJ Alonge, (June 2016, Grosset & Dunlap), $15.99, ISBN: 9780399542756

Recommended for readers 12+

Justin’s a teen having a rough summer in his Oakland, CA neighborhood. His alcoholic father shows up everywhere, challenging him to a game of hoops. His stepfather and mother are boring, and have spent way too much money on a pair of sneakers that he didn’t really want, but kind of made them think he did. He took on a crazy dare and ended up destroying a local business – literally – and now he’s got to defend his neighborhood basketball court against Ghosttown, a take-no-prisoners team. He pulls together a group of players and faces the upcoming game.

This isn’t just a story about a basketball game: Justin’s got plans for himself, and this first Blacktop book is all about letting us walk through his coming of age with him. He’s got a list of goals for himself, and he’s trying really hard to achieve them. He knows he’s going to be someone, someday, and he knows he needs time to “figure it out”. The narrative is fast-paced, and the basketball descriptions will appeal to fans of the game. I’d suggest this for teen audiences; more reluctant readers. There are four books in the Blacktop series.

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Picture Book Party! Potties, Pirates, Grandmas, and more!

It’s a picture book roundup of Spring and early Summer!

I’ve Got to Go, by Guido van Genechhten, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373379
Recommended for readers 2-5

Doggy has to go. It’s urgent! But his sister is sitting on his potty, because Mouse is on her potty… and so goes this sweet, cumulative tale. As Doggy runs by each animal friend taking up potty real estate, Doggy’s situation is becoming dire – until he reaches the big toilet! Endpapers introduce kids to synonyms for “being used”: “full”, “taken”, “busy”, “occupied”, “in use”, and engaged”, all of which show up throughout the book as Doggy makes his run to the big boy toilet. There’s an array of animal potties on the final endpapers, so kids can point out whose potty belonged to whom. The art is fun and tongue in cheek; kids will squeal with delight at Zebra “doing his business” and Giraffe sitting on the potty while reading a book. It’s a fun book that shows the transition from potty to big kid toilet that toddlers and preschoolers will love.

Sarah at the Wedding, by Pauline Oud, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373317
Recommended for ages 3-6

The latest in Pauline Oud’s Sarah and Ian series has the two friends playing a big part in Sarah’s Aunt Olivia’s wedding! The flower girl and ring bearer get dressed in their party clothes, watch Aunt Olivia marry William, and enjoy the celebration; blowing bubbles, posing for photos, and making their own veil and top hat at an arts and crafts table. This would make a great gift for any bride or groom to give to their flower girls or ring bearers, and is a nice addition to collections on friendship and special events. William, the groom, is a person of color, as is the celebrant and a handful of wedding guests. The bridal veil looks like photographed lace incorporated into Oud’s artwork for a nice, textured feel. Front endpapers feature illustrations of different clothes and activities for a wedding, along with some comprehension questions about the story for older audiences. Back endpapers include fun make your own veil and top hat crafts. Sarah at the Wedding was originally published in Dutch in 2015 and is a sweet addition to Pauline Oud’s collection; I love her art and her short sentences are great for younger readers gaining more confidence in reading independently.

The Only Way I Can, by Bonnie Grubman/Illustrated by Carolien Westermann, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373393
Recommended for readers 4-7

A Rabbit sees Bird flying; he wants to fly, too, and asks Bird for help. Despite Bird’s misgivings, he tries to help Rabbit; from making wings of feathers and string, to training exercises, to running into the wind, but nothing works. Rabbit decides to soar in his own way – the only way he can – and uses his imagination. The Only Way I Can is a story of self-acceptance and imagination, with beautiful backgrounds and warm colors. The illustrated endpaper spreads bring readers into the story setting and gently let them leave when the book ends. A good storytime book about accepting oneself and one’s limits while celebrating the bravery of taking chances.

My Good Morning!, by Kim Crockett Corson/Illustrated by Jelena Brezovec, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373423
Recommended for readers 3-6

A little girl wakes up, ready to start her day; can her Mommy and Daddy keep up with her as she gets ready for school? This is a fun, rhyming tale about getting ready for school in the morning, with a little girl that’s raring to go, and her parents, who are… a little less energetic, at first. We follow the girl through her morning ritual: going to the bathroom, washing up and brushing teeth, getting dressed, and out the door. Mom and Dad are there to help, but our girl wants to do things by herself, making for fun moments with mismatched socks, uneven buttons, and more milk for the cat than the little girl. When she gets to school, there are no tears: there’s too much fun to be had! Dad is a person of color, and the little girl is biracial; classmates form a diverse group. The rhyming text is fun, with short sentences that allow for interactivity by asking kids about what they see in each spread. Ask kids about their morning rituals and notice how different each person’s morning routine is. Pink argyle endpapers match the wallpaper in the family’s home. This is a fun read for storytime, be it a back-to-school storytime, a family storytime, or a storytime about being brave. My Good Morning! was originally published in Dutch in 2016 and is a nice addition to collections.

Pirate John-Wolf, by Natalie Quintart/Illustrated by Philippe Goossens, (July 2017, Clavis Books), $18.95, ISBN: 978-1605373300
Recommended for readers 4-7

John-Wolf feels weak and afraid most of the time. The only time he feels brave is when he’s alone in his room, singing songs about pirates like Blackbeard and Captain Hook. But one night, pirates kidnap John-Wolf and take him to their ship! Captain Drake demands that he sing some heroic deeds about him; and when John-Wolf finds his voice, he breaks into a loud and funny song about how weak and boring the pirates are. As he sings, he finds his bravery and impresses Captain Drake, who invites him to stay on board as John-Wolf the Pirate Singer. When John-Wolf returns to school, after his adventure, he has a different outlook and his classmates notice it. He’s more self-assured, more comfortable in his own skin. Pirate John-Wolf is a fun pirate story about finding your voice and self-confidence. The book says that John-Wolf’s adventure is a dream, but it’s not communicated as clearly in the story itself – not that it’s a big deal, just worth mentioning. The story has fun, with emphasized words and fonts throughout, and the art is cute and cartoony, with pirate animals and skull and crossbones endpapers. Originally published in Dutch in 2015, Pirate John-Wolf is a cute add to collections where pirate stories are popular.

What Can Your Grandma Do?, by Anna Sawan/Illustrated by Sernur Isik, (May 2017, Clavis Books), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1605373324
Recommended for readers 4-7

There’s a grandparents’ talent show coming up at Jeremy’s school! All of his friends talk about their grandparents’ special talents: there are doctors and artists, bakers and dancers; Jeremy starts to worry, because his grandmother doesn’t have any special talents like that. He and Grandma decide to go shoot some hoops while they think about a special talent, and then Jeremy realizes that his Grandma has a special talent of her own after all! What Can Your Grandma Do? takes a fun look at breaking the mold – Grandma can slam dunk in her coiffed hair and pearls. Grandparents are doing fun, exciting things in this story, which fits nicely with a more active generation of Baby Boomer grandparents, who will get a kick out of this story. Cartoony artwork and fun fonts, plus little details that enrich each spread, make this a good storytime choice and a great classroom choice when grandparents are in attendance. Talk to kids about their own grandparents’ special talents, and use the book as an opportunity to talk about how we all have our own special abilities. Pair with Rock Away Granny for a Grandparents Day storytime.

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

Cybils Middle Grade Fiction – A Few Reviews

Hey there!

I’m working hard, getting through my Cybils Middle Grade nominees – there’s so much good fiction out there! – so I thought I’d give a quick update on a few I’ve read so far.

red pencilThe Red Pencil, by Andrea Davis Pinkney, (Sept. 2014, Little, Brown Books for Young Readers), $17, ISBN: 978-0316247801

Recommended for ages 8-14

Amira is a 12 year-old girl living in Darfur. She dreams of going to school, something her mother will not hear. She will marry a husband who can read for her, her mother tells her. That all changes when the Janjaweed come.

When her village is attacked by the Sudanese militia, her life is changed forever. She, and the survivors of her village, make their way to a refugee camp, where she grieves and learns how to start life anew.

Written in verse, The Red Pencil is one of the most powerful books I have ever read. It’s about time we see fiction about this time and place in history hitting our bookshelves. Children need to read this book, and teachers need to discuss it with them. If you don’t have access to this book yet, PLEASE – find it, read it, and share it.

 

crossoverThe Crossover, by Kwame Alexander, (March 2014, HMH Books for Young Readers), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0544107717

Recommended for ages 8-14

Josh and his twin brother, Jordan, are lightning on the basketball court. The sons of a basketball player whose pro career was derailed by an injury and the assistant principal of their school, they have a strong family background that emphasizes teamwork and schoolwork.

Josh loves to rhyme, cranking out beats in his head as he plays. Jordan has other things in mind these days, though – namely, a girlfriend. Josh has a hard time with accepting this third party in his and Jordan’s relationship. Throw in their father’s health problems that he refuses to seek help for, and you’ve got a compelling read that will appeal to all readers, male and female, sports fans or not. There’s a flow and pacing to this novel, also written in verse, that just moves the pages on its own. Josh is a likable kid, and readers will see themselves in his shoes as he talks about his fears and frustrations.

The Crossover has been designated as a Kirkus Best Children’s Book of 2014, one of Publisher’s Weekly’s Best Children’s Books of 2014, and a School Library Journal Best Book of the Year.