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 Adventure, Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads

Dog Driven is great action, survival fiction

Dog Driven, by Terry Lynn Johnson, (Dec. 2019, HMH Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1328551597

Ages 9-13

Fourteen-year-old McKenna Barney is a musher: a dogsled racer, and she’s gearing up for The Great Superior Mail Run; a 3-day, 354-kilometer race that takes racers from Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario to White River, Ontario. The race is a tribute to the pioneer mail carriers who delivered mail along the shore of Lake Superior, and each participant is carrying a bag of mail that will receive special commemorative stamps. For McKenna’s 8-year-old sister, Emma, it’s the chance to put a spotlight on Stargardt disease, a disease that causes a loss of central vision. Emma has Stargardt’s disease, but what only Emma knows is that McKenna thinks she does, too. McKenna’s vision has started blurring, and she’s experiencing the same symptoms Emma developed at the disease’s onset. McKenna, determined to stay independent after seeing the strain Emma’s condition has put on her family, enters the race to deliver her sister’s message and because she doesn’t know if she’ll get to do this again. During the three-day race, she and her dogs are put to the test in brutal weather conditions: owl attacks; bitter cold; snow squalls, and shifting ice.

Dog Driven is SUCH good reading. McKenna emerges as a strong, smart character who you root for through the book. Her burgeoning friendship with fellow musher, Guy (pronounced “Geee”, with a hard G) provides a solid subplot to the story. Their partnership, despite being competitors, is light, fun, and vital to McKenna’s survival in the race and her determination to continue. Letters that our mushers are carrying, plus older letters from Guy’s great-great-grandfather, provide context and further investment in the race outside of the main storyline. Well-thought out characters, a strong survival in the wild story, and Terry Lynn Johnson’s incredible – and readable – knowledge of dogsled racing make this a must-read. Give this to your readers who’ve tackled I Survived and are ready for more; your Hatchet readers, and anyone who enjoys Terry Lynn Johnson other dog books and her Survival Diaries series.

Check out Terry Lynn Johnson’s author page for pictures of her sled dogs (SO CUTE), fun facts, and Survivor Diaries research.

Dog Driven has starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist.

 

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

Jamie Sumner’s Roll With It gives life with CP a face and a story

Roll With It, by Jamie Sumner, (Oct. 2019, Atheneum), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534442559

Ages 10-14

Twelve-year-old Ellie loves to bake. She writes letters to famous chefs and cookbook authors, asking questions to make her own art better. She’s frustrated by her overprotective mom, having to go to the bathroom at school with the help of an aide, and her father, who exists in theory, not so much in practice. Ellie also has cerebral palsy, or CP, which keeps her wheelchair-bound, but never out of the game. After her grandfather, who has dementia, drives his car into a local supermarket, Ellie’s mom packs up and heads to Eufala, Oklahoma, to live with and help out. Ellie’s grandmother is thrilled to have her family for a visit, but makes it clear that she’s not putting her husband into a home. Ellie starts school and a new life in Oklahoma, befriending Coralee and Bert; schoolmates who have their own eccentric flairs, and taking on a school that isn’t ready for Ellie.

Inspired by her son, Roll With It is author Jamie Sumner’s first novel, and with it, she has given us a main character who is upbeat, smart, funny, and darned independent. She’s a tween on the verge of teenhood, coping with adolescent feelings and frustrations on top of family worries, like her grandfather’s increasing dementia, concern about her grandmother, and a father that she’s disappointed in and hurt by. On top of that, she has the struggles that come with being in a school ill-equipped to work with her needs, and being the new kid in the middle of a school year. How does she cope? She lets you know what’s going on! Her voice is strong and clear, in her fantastic tweenage snark and honesty. Her friends Coralee and Bert have fully-realized backstories, giving them life beyond being Ellie’s friends in the background. Ellie’s grandparents and mother emerge as realistic, three-dimensional characters with big concerns of their own: family health, an absent spouse, bills, bills, bills.

A story about fitting in and standing out, following a dream and making your own way, Ellie is a character you want to cheer for and your kids will want to hang out with. Hand this to any of your realistic fiction readers, especially the kids that love Aven’s adventures in Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling or Sharon Draper’s Out of My Mind; for your baking aficionados, give to readers who loved Jessie Janowitz’s The Doughnut Fix/The Doughnut King, and Anna Meriano’s Love Sugar Magic books. Talk this up to your teacher visitors, and suggest they take a look at it (I’m always ready to push good Summer Reading list ideas).

Roll With It has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly. Check out Jamie Sumner’s author webpage, where you can sign up to receive her newsletter and download a free discussion guide.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Rick Riordan Presents: The Storm Runner, and the Mayan Pantheon!

The Storm Runner, by JC Cervantes, (Sept. 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $16.99, ISBN: 9781368016346

Ages 8-13

The next Rick Riordan Presents book is out! The next Rick Riordan Presents book is out!! I’m as excited as my library kids are, because The Storm Runner has got the GOODS.

Middle schooler Zane Obispo is an ordinary kid. Kinda. I mean, he’s being raised by his single mom, hangs out with his pro wrestling-loving uncle, and loves exploring with his 3-legged dog, Rosie. But he also has his own volcano – there’s a dormant volcano right near his New Mexico home – and he tries to avoid the jerks at school who make fun of him, because one leg is shorter than the other. When a new girl named Brooks shows up at school and tells him he’s destined to release an evil god from the underworld, he thinks she’s crazy: until it really happens. Brooks is a shapeshifter than can turn into a hawk, Rosie is lost to the underworld while trying to protect Zane from a Mayan god who smells like puke, and Zane? He’s the son of another Mayan god. And now, with Ah-Puch unleashed, there’s a war brewing between the gods, including Zane’s father. Zane’s the only one who can put things right, but all he wants to do is save Rosie and leave them to it.

The Storm Runner is SO. GOOD. It’s a brilliant introduction to the Mayan pantheon, for starters. Narrated by Zane, we get some real talk about the awesomeness of a people that worshiped a goddess of chocolate (Ixcacao) and a Mayan giant who likes to tinker and invent things that would make the As Seen on TV people drool. There’s action and adventure, and a strong bonds of family and friendship that run through the book. The worldbuilding is fantastic, with delightfully gross descriptions of gooey, oozing gods and poisoned meatballs. There are key elements that fantasy fans will look for and love: the bonds of family and friendship, a strong sense of humor, and a disabled character who discovers the true nature of his disability as a source of power. (In Percy Jackson, kids with ADHD were descended from the Greek gods. Here, Zane’s leg is directly linked to his heritage, and the reveal is outrageous and fantastic.) There’s a glossary of Mayan terms, including pronunciation help.

Look at Irvin Rodriguez’s cover! That artwork is incredible! Want a program-in-a-book idea? Scholastic has some good activities; there are Mayan gods coloring pages. and The British Museum has good ideas. Spice up your library programming or ELA/History lessons!

This trend of exploring cultures through different pantheons is such fun and such a great learning experience. Give this to your Percy Jackson/Kane Chronicles/all the Riordan fans; your Aru Shah fans, your Serpent’s Secret fans – all your action, adventure, and fantasy fans. See what else is coming from Rick Riordan Presents here, and check out award-winning novelist JC Cervantes’ website here. The Storm Runner has starred reviews from Booklist and School Library Journal.

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

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus is amazing!

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, by Dusti Bowling, (Sept. 2017, Sterling Children’s Books), $14.95, ISBN: 9781454923459

Recommended for readers 9-12

I was lucky enough to attend a children’s author dinner at BookExpo this past year, and got to hear several authors, including Dusti Bowling, talk about their upcoming books. As Ms. Bowling spoke about the work she put into her book, Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus, you could just see the passion she poured into her story of Aven, a kickass middle grade heroine of a new kind: she’s an adoptee, so, yay!; she’s headstrong, smart, focused, and she’s witty. And she happens to have been born without arms. She loves to tell people wild stories of how she lost her arms: an alligator wrestling match is my favorite, but she’s got a few doozies.

Aven starts the novel as the new kid in town. Her parents have moved to Arizona, where her dad accepted a job running a floundering western theme park called Stagecoach Pass. Now, Aven gets stared at. She’s different. She relies on her feet like most people rely on their hands. She’s eating lunch in the bathroom, because she can’t stand to have anyone stare at her eat with her feet. But she meets Connor, a boy with Tourette’s, and Zion, who’s shy about his weight, and things start looking up. The friends lean on one another, drawing and giving strength to each other.

That alone would be a great storyline, but throw in a mystery – a BIG mystery – at Stagecoach Pass that Aven is determined to unravel, and you have an incredible book in your hands. Aven, Connor, and Zion are kids that I want to know; Bowling breathes beautiful life into them and makes readers care about them. She provides positive, complex, realistic portrayals of kids living with disabilities and how they meet those hurdles every day, every hour, every minute. Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus has numerous accolades and received starred reviews from School Library Journal, Booklist, and Shelf Awareness.

I adored this book and can’t believe it took me this long to finally get to it. Give this to your Wonder fans, display and booktalk with books starring smart middle grade heroines, like Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin, and of course, Beverly Cleary’s Ramona and Roald Dahl’s Matilda.

Check out Dusti Bowling’s author webpage for a free, downloadable discussion guide and to read up on news and updates.

Posted in Fiction, Historical Fiction, Young Adult/New Adult

What makes a monster? Matthew J. Kirby explores in A Taste for Monsters

taste-for-monstersA Taste for Monsters, by Matthew J. Kirby, (Sept. 2016, Scholastic), $18.99, ISBN: 9780545817844

Recommended for ages 12+

Evelyn is a young woman left to fend for herself on the streets of Victorian London’s infamous East End. Orphaned and disfigured by her work in a matchstick factory, she seemingly has few prospects; she applies to London Hospital as a nurse, and is instead assigned to be the maid to the hospital’s most famous patient: Joseph Merrick, the Elephant Man. As she attends to Merrick, she finds a gentle, beautiful soul with whom she shares a love of Jane Austen, easy conversation, and sadly, pain.

And then the ghosts come. They visit nightly, terrifying Merrick and Evelyn, who stays with him to support him through the nightly terrors. Evelyn discovers that the ghosts are the restless spirits of women murdered by Jack the Ripper, whose work makes gruesome headlines. Evelyn takes it upon herself to help these spirits find peace so that they’ll leave Joseph alone, but are they really haunting him? And is Evelyn putting herself in the Ripper’s sights by getting involved?

This is my third Kirby book, and it’s safe to say I am hooked on his writing. His historical fiction places you right in the middle of the action, and his fantastic elements are so believable – especially in an age where spiritualists ran wild – that I had no problem believing that ghosts existed and sought out the kindness of a gentle man like Joseph Merrick. The character development is brilliant and complex; the characters had a depth to them that made we want to sit with them and share tea and conversation. There’s a thread of tension running through the book that will keep readers turning pages, whether it’s the tension between Evelyn and several key supporting characters in the novel, the tension of waiting for the spirits to arrive, and the gripping conclusion. Historical fiction fans that appreciate a touch of the supernatural will love this book; readers interested in the Jack the Ripper story or the Elephant Man will love this book. Conservative readers may shy away from some of the gory descriptions of the Ripper’s victims as read from the newspapers and sideshow attractions. There’s some excellent YA Ripper-related fiction available, including Maureen Johnson’s The Name of the Star; the graphic novel From Hell is another great booktalking and display choice. There is a children’s picture book about The Elephant Man by Mariangela Di Fiore that would be a good display choice. Get this book on your shelves and into hands.

Matthew J. Kirby is an Edgar Award-winning novelist.

 

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

Blind Guide to Normal brings back old friends!

blind-guideA Blind Guide to Normal, by Beth Vrabel, (Oct. 2016, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9781510702288

Recommended for ages 8-12

Taking place in Beth Vrabel’s Blind Guide universe, readers get to hang out with Ryder, also known as Richie Raymond, in Beth Vrabel’s A Blind Guide to Normal. Ryder is leaving Addison, the school for the blind we were introduced to in A Blind Guide to Stinkville, to head to “normal” school for eighth grade. The thing is, at Addison, Richie was the Big Man on Campus. With his jokes about his prosthetic eye and ability to find a witty comeback for every situation, he was the King of the Hill at Addison. In a mainstream school, it’s starting all over again – and to add to the chaos, he and his mom are moving in with his grandfather while his dad is off studying buffalo. Gramps has a very strange sense of humor, and his cat, General MacCathur, can’t stand him. On his first day of school, Ryder finds himself enrolled in a Quilting class (thanks, Grandpa!), making his bio teacher pass out, and putting himself at odds with the town hero, Max. Forget about fitting in – can Ryder get through the school year as the school punchline? He’ll need some help from his best friend Alice and, unbelievably enough, Gramps, to find out.

Less of a sequel and more of a companion to Blind Guide to Stinkville, Blind Guide to Normal is every bit as great to read as any Beth Vrabel book. Yes, I’m a Vrabel fangirl, and with good reason: she creates characters that I love. They tend to have a sarcastically upbeat outlook, which I can appreciate, and so do many of the kids I talk to in a given day. Her villain here isn’t even a villain, it’s just someone who Max starts off on the wrong foot with, and Max’s gift to see himself descending into car wreck territory but not being able to stop it is so refreshingly normal – how many times have you just not been able to stop talking when you know you’re just making things worse? – that you’ll laugh with embarrassed relief that you’re not alone. I was happy to see Alice again; her FaceTime conversations with Ryder provide a nice, familiar anchor for both Ryder and us readers. His relationship with his grandfather is a great subplot that I hope reaches kids who just don’t get their own grandparents, who they may see as weird or old-fashioned.

I hope Beth Vrabel finds more ways to bring us back to this group of friends. There’s a lot of great diversity in kid lit these days, and Vrabel’s ability to address disability with the suppressed emotion that spills over into a Don Rickles-like wit adds a spark to the expanding dialogue. Get this one and give it to your Blind Guide to Stinkville readers, sure, but also hand this one to your Wimpy Kid readers and tell them that Ryder and Greg would, in the ultimate literary multiverse, probably get along just fine.

 

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

Tone Deaf: YA romance with a little extra

tone deafTone Deaf, by Olivia Rivers (May 2016, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781634507073

Recommended for ages 13+

When Ali Collins agrees to go to a concert with her best friend, Avery, she never expects her life to change, but that’s exactly what happens when she wins a backstage tour and meet and greet with Jace, the heartthrob lead singer of the band. Jace, however, is a moody, unpleasant jerk who flips her off when he discovers that she’s deaf. It’s only when Jace’s manager insists that he track Ali down to apologize – he doesn’t need any more bad press – that Jace sees the bruises. Ali lives her with father, a retired police chief, who abuses her, and Ali’s got a plan to run away. When Jace – who has demons of his own – offers Ali the chance to help her escape to New York, she takes him up on it and finds herself traveling cross-country with Tone Deaf, Jace’s band. Spending time together, the two learn that they have more in common than they could have imagined. Can Ali stay hidden while her father uses all of his resources to bring her home? And what happens after she reaches New York, and she and Jace part ways?

Tone Deaf is an interesting take on YA romance. There’s a little something in here for everyone: disability, LGBT characters, animal rescue, and child abuse. It sounds like a lot to throw into one book, but it flows nicely and all the elements come together to create a readable story. Jace is the brooding hero with the deep, tortured past; Ali is the EveryGirl that needs to take her life back. They can’t stand one another, but you know they’re going to fall in love, and it’s all good. Romance readers will enjoy the story, and additional resources provide information and links about the Deaf community.

A good additional add for your YA collections, especially where romance does well.

 

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

A Shot in the Dark – Sports Hi-Lo Reading from Lorimer

shot in the darkA Shot in the Dark, by Janet M. Whyte (2015, Lorimer) $9.95CAD, ISBN: 9781459408500

Recommended for ages 12-16

Micah is a legally blind 8th grader. He’s excited to have made the junior goalball team, but he’s got some stuff going on that is stressing him out. For starters, his utevitis is flaring up again – it’s the degenerative eye condition that’s taking his sight, and hurts like crazy. His parents want to get him a guide dog, which rankles him because he feels like it’s a decision they’re making for him, and he doesn’t want to feel dependent on the dog. Finally, a new player joins the goalball team, and he’s good. Really good. Micah’s frustration shows on the goalball court, and almost costs him his spot on the team, and some friendships. Luckily, he’s got a lot of support in his corner, from his parents to the specialist, Cam, who’s helping him work out walking with a cane and talking out his feelings.

This is another Hi-Lo book from Lorimer, and it’s a great choice middle schoolers and high schoolers. We’ve got a lead character who works with his disability, and he’s a jock on top of it! Ms. Whyte takes the time to explain and narrate goalball the way Mike Lupica writes about sports, so readers will discover a new sport and learn that disabilities are obstacles that can be overcome. We get insight into navigating school and life for a kid with a disability, and it’s presented realistically, as empowering as it is frustrating for Micah. Sports gives most kids confidence, and we see that here, illustrated with Micah’s love for goalball.

This is a great summer reading choice that works nicely with the #WeNeedDiverseBooks intiative. As with other Lorimer Hi-Lo selections, it’s age appropriate and offers a deeper read, ready for reluctant and struggling readers who have worked on their skills and are ready for the next step.

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

Talk to Me – What did Maddie See?

talk to meTalk to Me, by Sonia Ellis/illus. by Evanleigh Davis (2014, FastPencil) $16.99, ISBN: 9781619338821

Recommended for ages 9-14

Seven year-old Maddie Reyes is a selective mute. She can talk up a storm around her mom, dad, and older sister, Sadina. She tells all of her secrets to Bella, her robotic cat. But get her outside of her family circle, and she cannot speak. Sadina, her older sister, protects her and takes care of her as much as she can, but she can’t be with Maddie all the time.

One night, Maddie discovers an intruder in the house – an intruder who knows about Maddie. When Maddie and Sadina’s mother is accused of a corporate crime, Sadina thinks her friend Rio is behind it, but Maddie knows the truth. And now, she’s not talking at all. To find out what Maddie knows, Sadina will have to team up with her friends and find a way to make Bella, the one friend that Maddie will still speak to, talk back to Maddie.

This book drew me in right away. I love there character diversity- let’s hear it for a Latina heroine!; I found it fascinating that Ms. Ellis made Maddie a selective mute, and how she worked that into the meat of the plot. The story’s pace will keep a middle grader’s attention, and there’s enough tension in the book to keep readers guessing and thinking overtime. This is a great book for discussion groups; there’s so much to cover here. From disabilities that aren’t readily visible to corporate espionage, to the reality of animating a robotic pet, this book would be a great collaborative reading assignment for English and Science classes.

There are frequent references to technology in the book – Maddie and Sadina’s mother is an engineer, working on a new cellphone battery; Sadina and her friends are very handy in the tech lab; Rio wants new design software – but I’m not sure that qualifies this as a STEM Mystery. It’s a good story with STEM references.

Evanleigh Davis’ illustrations bring a real innocence to Maddie’s character. Her large eyes, seemingly forever gazing upward, make her look small and bewildered. Every illustration is filled with character and adds another dimension to the storytelling.

I think this will be a good book to get on the shelves at my library this summer. It’s the first book in a new series, and anything to do with kids using technology to solve problems is a book I want to have at the kids’ fingertips.