Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles loves all the ways to cuddle!

Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles, by Mike Allegra/Illustrated by Jaimie Whitbread, (Oct. 2022, Page Street Kids), $18.99, ISBN: 9781645675594

Ages 4-8

The rainforest is alive with squeaks and squawks, grunts, grows, and hisses, until the day a cheerful capybara shows up and introduces cuddles to all the animals. Some animals aren’t so sure about the full-on cuddle: turtle’s worried it will make their shell less tough, and hugs make green iguana uncomfortable, but capybara assures everyone that a cuddle can take whatever form makes you comfortable: it’s just about being together! One animal after another FLOOFS along with the capybara, making the rainforest a friendlier, cuddlier place than ever before. Cheerful storytelling illustrates the power of a hug while reassuring readers who may be uncomfortable with full-on contact that cuddles can take whatever form makes them feel happy, secure, and loved. An author’s note touches on the book’s inspiration (Capybaras really do FLOOF!), and endapapers reveal a lush rainforest setting. Pleasant cartoony animals are cute and will appeal to readers; shades of yellow, green, and brown give the artwork an earthy feel. This will make a good readaloud for preschool and kindergarten classrooms, when kids are still learning their boundaries, and the boundaries that others feel comfortable with.

Visit the Sleepy Happy Capy Cuddles book detail page on Page Street Kids’s website to download a free activity kit, complete with capy facts and an activity on consent.

Posted in Teen, Uncategorized, Young Adult/New Adult

Reputation is a Regency-era Mean Girls

Reputation, by Lex Croucher, (Apr. 2022, St. Martin’s Griffin), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250832832

Ages 16+

Georgiana Ellers is a 19-year-old young woman living with her aunt and uncle in Regency-era England. Her parents have rather unceremoniously left her in their care, selling their home and moving to the shore under the guise of her mother needing to look after her health. Resigning herself to the boredom and stress of society parties at the elbow of her ton-conscious aunt, Georgiana is delighted when she meets Frances Campbell – a somewhat scandalous member of society’s in-crowd, who immediately takes Georgiana under her wing. Frances and her crowd are given to wild partying, spending copious amounts of money, and spending an improper amount of time in the company of the opposite sex. Georgiana loses herself in the abandon of it all, but she feels like she’s falling just short of fitting in most of the time. She also falls hard for one of the young men on the fringes of the group, Thomas Hawksley, but he tends to pull back from the wilder group antics.

This book is riding high on the Bridgerton wave, and with good reason: it packs all the glamour of Regency-era Britain, with Shonda Rimes’s diverse additions making for a more exciting, interesting experience. Reputation certainly doesn’t overlook the issues rampant in Britain at the time; a biracial central character certainly experiences her share of side glances and comments. An LGBTQ+ subplot running through the main story, and there are themes of consent, agency, and social class.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Young Adult/New Adult

Essential Guides to Gender and Sexuality for Your Shelves

I’ve been working on my teen nonfiction and graphic novel collections lately. I’ve been reading a lot of graphic novels and thinking about what’s currently on my shelves (lots of superheroes, lots of Big Two titles) and what I need more of (more indies, which I’d started right before the shutdown; more nonfiction and classics getting the graphic treatment). I read the Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns a couple of years ago, and was really happy with the no-nonsense, yet fun, explanation and the small, portable format. I did some wandering and found more Quick and Easy Guides from Limerance Press, the Oni Press imprint that includes sex education, and gender and sexuality studies comics. These are all good books to have available in your new adult/young adult graphic novel collections.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities, by Mady G and JR Zuckerberg, (Apr. 2019, Limerance Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620105863

Ages 16+

Gender and sexuality explained by a series of adorable cartoon characters, including Iggy, a snail, who serves as a guide to other snails while his “dad”, Bowery, a queer educator, hangs out with students at a campfire, and forest creatures called The Sproutlings. Well-explained and illustrated sections on the big questions What is Queer?; What is Gender Identity?; What’s Gender Expression?; What Does Dysphoria Mean?; What is Asexuality?, and What Does It Mean to Come Out?, give detailed and easy-to-understand information. A Relationship Basics section encourages readers to be proud, safe, and engage in self-care, and there are empowering activities, including how to make a mini zine, at the end. There’s a list of further resources that would be good for you to add to your own references resources list, too.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability, by A. Andrews, (May 2020 2019, Limerance Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781620106945

Ages 16+

Snarky, self-described “totally queer, totally complete, incomplete paraplegic cartoonist” A. Andrews is our guide to embracing and enjoying disabled bodies. Andrews points out the sobering facts: disabled people are less likely to receive adequate sex education and sexual healthcare, are more likely to experience sexual trauma and stigma surrounding sex and sexuality, and deal with countless microagressions and misconceptions. The book defines disability and debunks the biggest (and craziest) myths about disabled bodies, and offers the best ways to communicate about sex. The book includes writing prompts to get readers thinking and speaking; a Goofus and Gallant way of what to say – and NOT to say – to a disabled person; and quick, helpful tips for self-care and having the best sexual experience possible. Important for everyone to read, with realistic cartoon artwork that depicts a diverse range of bodies, A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability contributes a great deal to the self-care, self-love conversation.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Consent, by Isabella Rotman & Luke Howard, (Oct. 2020, Limerance Press), $7.99, ISBN: 9781620107942

Ages 16+

Finally, we have an upcoming guide to consent, which is a HUGE word to know. Sargent Yes Means Yes, decked out in a dress uniform, gets in between a young couple to explain consent: what it is, nonverbal cues people use when they may feel bad about not giving consent, and how to communicate – verbally and nonverbally – with your partner(s) to create the best experience for each of you, together. There are helpful phrases, input from sexual educators, and red flags to watch out for (read: GUILT AND EMOTIONAL MANIPULATION ARE NOT WAYS TO GET CONSENT). There’s an important section on the ability to give consent, and about the age of consent, which can provide some uncomfortable moments for teens and college students just under the age of consent and dating someone just over the age of consent. Be informed, be safe, be responsible, and have fun. There’s a checklist to share with your partner(s) to get an idea of what flips your switches, too.

The artwork in each of these books is consistent; created by different illustrators, it’s got a nice sense of continuity with realistic cartoon characters (only Queer and Trans Identities has non-humanoid characters) and I appreciate the conversational tone that communicates so much information in a comfortable, real talk way. I hope my high school and college kids will find what they need here.

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

Middle School #MeToo: Maybe He Just Likes You

Maybe He Just Likes You, by7 Barbara Dee, (Oct. 2019, Aladdin), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534450158

Ages 9-13

It all starts with an unwanted hug that takes seventh-grader Mila by surprise, on the school playground, when the basketball boys decide to join in on a friend’s birthday celebration. It keeps going: unwanted hugs, comments, even touches; barely disguised chuckles and cheers among the basketball boys. Mila knows it’s wrong. She feels uncomfortable, she feels it in her skin, but her friends think she’s being dramatic. The teacher she tries to talk to brushes it off. And it keeps going, because she doesn’t want to mention it to her mom: she’s got enough problems, raising two kids on her own and having a lousy time at work. When Mila steps into a karate class, though, and makes an unexpected friend, she starts to recover her confidence and realizes that she owns her own power, and if no one will help her, she’s going to take matters into her own hands.

Maybe He Just Likes You. Who hasn’t heard this phrase, growing up? It’s been the excuse, as old as time, for behaviors from hair-pulling to unwanted brushes across parts of our bodies; smirks and hapless shrugs with half-chuckled, half-muttered, “Sorrrrrry” responses. It’s been the excuse, putting it on young girls and women to endure the snickers and comments as we walk down the halls of school, play outside, walk into the workplace. Barbara Dee’s book introduces us to Mila, a seventh grader who finds herself the object of a group’s attention; their power play. She asks for help, and gets brushed off. Her friend, Zara, seems almost jealous of the attention she’s getting, not understanding that attention like this is unwanted, unasked for. She’s gaslighted by her tormentors, who tell her to “lighten up”; that she blows things out of proportion; that she can’t take a joke. Just as Mila begins to withdraw into herself, she starts taking a free karate class, and discovers a classmate who notices that something’s been going on, and encourages Mila to stand up for herself. Karate practice, plus this new, unexpected friendship, gives Mila clarity and the ability to bring attention to the behavior, and discovers that she is not the only one the boys have targeted.

Mila is a strong, smart character in whom readers may see themselves. Barbara Dee creates a painfully real story with Maybe He Just Likes You; a story that has taken decades to come to light, but isn’t backing down anymore. Mila’s first person narration makes it much easier to envision ourselves in Mila’s shoes, and Barbara Dee’s strong, clear voice makes Mila’s creeping discomfort and anger palpable, causing us to curl our fingers and grit our teeth. I wanted to cheer for her, I wanted to scream for her, I wanted to yell and demand that her educators take notice of what was going on – and wanted to sink into my seat with relief when someone finally does.

Sexual harassment has spent too long feeding on our silence. With the #MeToo movement, and now, a #MeTooK12 movement, kids are learning about respect, consent, and boundaries. Let’s support them. I hope that Maybe He Just Likes You will come with an educator guide with sexual harassment resources and lesson plans for K-12 educators. I have found some on the Web: Institute for Humane Education; Equal Rights Advocates; Harvard University’s “Making Caring Common” Project; and Stop Sexual Assault in Schools.

This is a middle school/upper middle grade novel, and needs to be read by adults, teens, and tweens. Booktalk and display with books like Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, and Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali. There are more and more books available for YA on this topic; I’m glad that middle grade/middle school is getting their moment, too. School Library Journal has a great article from 2018, “Beyond “No Means No”: Resources on Consent“, and a Teen Librarian Toolbox article from 2014 spotlights two works by Jacqueline Woodson that can fall into either middle grade/middle school or YA. Author Barbara Dee writes about her inspiration in this Nerdy Book Club post.

Maybe He Just Likes You has a starred review from Publishers Weekly. Barbara Dee’s author webpage contains information about her books, school visits, and an FAQ.

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

Creep Con – Cosplay does *not* equal consent or reality!

creep conCreep Con, by Kim Firmston (Sept. 2015, Lorimer), $14.95, ISBN: 9781459409774

Recommended for ages 12+

Comic book and superhero fan Mariam’s the new girl in school and feeling lonely until she meets Tya, who’s hardcore into the manga/anime fandom. The two bond over their mutual fandoms and love of cosplay and conventions, and plan to attend an otaku – anime and manga fandom – con together. All is well until Tya can’t go to the con because she has a family wedding to go to, leaving Mariam to go on her own. While she’s there, she meets up with a group of cosplayers from the same manga, who invite her to join their group. The leader of the group, Rick, seems to have a hard time keeping fantasy and reality straight, though, and starts getting way too familiar with Mariam, insisting that they play out their character’s romance. Can Mariam get away from Rick before things go too far?

If you’re a cosplay/convention fan, you’re doubtlessly familiar with the Cosplay is NOT Consent movement, a movement that exists because some con-goers said and acted inappropriately to their fellow fans. Creep Con is an interesting look at this situation, particularly as it takes place in the otaku fandom, where the costumes can get a little outrageous. There are some great references to both comics/superhero and otaku fandoms here, that teens will be familiar with and appreciate. The story brings the danger of cosplay being mistaken for consent home, and at the same time, reminds teens that they need to be honest and upfront with their parents and guardians – safety first.

I did find Mariam frustrating in that she let herself be ordered around by this guy she didn’t even know. She had two people she knew and wanted to become closer friends with at the con, but talked herself – several times – into┬álistening to Rick, who left charming behind and went right into creepy early on in the book. I can see where it was an honest portrayal, particularly for a new girl who was trying to make friends, but I would have liked a stronger protagonist who wasn’t so easily manipulated.

This is one of Lorimer’s new novels for reluctant readers. The line is strong, covering current topics like cosplay and fandom; LGBT and abuse with their Side Streets line; sports; historical fiction, and true crime. Struggling and reluctant readers will appreciate the no frills storytelling that gets straight to the point and covers topics that meet their interests.