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

Librarian Resistance! Don’t Check Out This Book by Kate Klise

Don’t Check Out This Book!, by Kate Klise/Illustrated by M. Sarah Klise, (March 2020, Algonquin), $16.95, ISBN: 978-1-61620-976-6

Ages 8-12

In this testament to the librarian resistance, new school librarian Rita B. Danjerous moves into the town of Appleton, Illinois, a town that’s been dwindling. Heck, Rita’s there because the school received a “When All Else Fails” grant, and by enrolling Rita’s daughter, May B Danjerous (you’ll notice there’s no period after the B), the school will hit their minimum enrollment of 20 students to be allowed to stay open. Appleton Elementary School is not quite ready for a librarian like Rita, or a kid like May, but they’ll be glad the two are there: this is a mother-daughter duo who see things a little differently than most of the folks in Appleton, and they’re going to have to lock horns with the school board president, Ivana Beprawpa, who has her own ideas about how the school should be run… and dressed!

I loved this fun story that puts us librarians in such a good light! Rita is smart, savvy, and ready to work with what she’s got to make her library – in this case, a custodial closet, and then an apple cart – work. She creates a scandalous “Green Dot Collection” for kids who may be a little embarrassed to ask for books about certain subjects (which totally has my brain wheels turning for when my library opens back up); she pushes back against silly bureaucrats who operate with their own special interests in mind; and she encourages her daughter, and her library kids, to question everything and think independently. Written as a series of emails, newspaper articles, memos, sketches, and other forms of written communication, kids will devour this awesome book about the power of one person who sees things differently. A great idea for a book club read, too.

Kate Klise is the award-winning author of the 43 Old Cemetery Road series, which is a big hit in my library. Her author website has info about her books – most of which are illustrated by her sister, M. Sarah Klise! – and links to her blog and workshop information.

Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is the YA you need to read this Fall

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine, by Maika Moulite & Maritza Moulite, (Sept. 2019, Harlequin TEEN), $18.99, ISBN: 9781335777096

Ages 13+

Alaine is a smart, witty, outspoken 17-year-old Haitian-American teen living in Miami with her father. Her mother, a high-profile cable news journalist, has an on-air meltdown that puts Alaine in the crosshairs of the mean girls at school; she retaliates with a school project that goes sideways. Her psychiatrist father intervenes and comes up with an appropriate “punishment” for Alaine: she must spend two months volunteering with her Tati Estelle’s startup fundraising app in Haiti. Alaine’s mother is already there, spending time pulling herself together after events leading up to the on-air breakdown. As Alaine spends more time in Haiti, the burgeoning journalism student discovers her love for Haiti and its history, and stumbles onto family secrets and a situation with her aunt’s organization that’s sending up red flags.

Told through e-mails, postcards, journal entries, and in Alaine’s voice, Dear Haiti, Love Alaine is an unputdownable look at Haiti, its history, and its people, all wreathed in magical realism tied into the heart of the country. Alaine’s voice is strong and clear; she’s dealing with a seemingly nonstop onslaught of feelings and stressors and works through them all as they come. She desperately wants to improve the relationship between herself and her high-powered, emotionally distant mother, but sometimes, she isn’t even sure where to begin. She’s as confused by her aunt as she adores her. And does she dare explore a relationship with the fellow intern in her aunt’s Patron Pal startup? (Hint: Uh, YEAH.) There’s never a lull in the storytelling here, which will endear readers to Alaine and her family, and inspire an interest in learning more about Haiti’s rich, yet troubled, history.

If this is the debut for sisters Maika Moulike and Maritza Moulike, I can’t wait to see what’s next. Dear Haiti, Love Alaine has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Booklist. The book is out today – check out an excerpt on Bustle.com, and then hit your library or local bookstore to pick up a copy.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction, picture books, Teen, Toddler Reads, Tween Reads

Need a gift? Give a book!

Now that the discount coupons are hitting inboxes, it’s a great time to stock up on books to give for the holidays. Here’s a look at some more books that will delight the readers in your life!

For the Little Ones:

Baby’s First Cloth Book: Christmas, Ilustrated by Lisa Jones & Edward Underwood, (Sept. 2018, Candlewick), $18, ISBN: 978-1-5362-0275-5

Ages 0-2

It’s Baby Boo’s first Christmas! This 8-page book is soft and squishy, perfect for exploring little hands and mouths. Baby Boo enjoys the snow, builds a snowman with Daddy, goes back inside to warm up by the fire and gaze at the Christmas tree, and at night, Santa drops off presents! The plush book is soft, and the page featuring the snowman is crinkly; perfect for play time and engaging your little one’s senses. The colors are bright, with gentle-faced animals and people. The book comes in its on add Park, Farm, and Zoo to the list.

 

Ten Horse Farm, by Robert Sabuda, (Apr. 2018, Candlewick Press), $29.99, ISBN: 978-0-7636-6398-8

Ages 5+

You don’t have to be a kid to love Robert Sabuda; his paper engineering is stunning to see. Ten Horse Farm is a full-color, pop-up counting book where each spread stars a different horse engaging in some kind of activity: racing, resting, jumping, or bucking. Let your kiddos count the horses as you go, and use this book in storytime to bring wonder and surprise to your readers. This fits in nicely with a horse storytime, farm storytime, animal storytime… any time storytime. Inspired by rural America, Robert Sabuda even named his upstate New York art studio Ten Horse Farm. Sabuda books are timeless gifts.

Ten Horse Farm has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

For the Dinosaur fan:

Dragon Post, by Emma Yarlett, (Dec. 2018, Kane Miller), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-818-6

Ages 6-10

If you’re a regular reader here, you know I LOVE Emma Yarlett. Her Nibbles the Book Monster books are required reading in my home, and the kids at my library and my son’s Kindergarten class can’t get enough Nibbles. Dragon Post has the same fun spirit as we meet Alexander, a young boy who finds a dragon in his home. He’s excited, naturally, but he’s also a little concerned about fire safety. So he writes a series of letters, as different questions pop up for him. The best part? We get to read the letters!

This is an interactive book, with envelopes (lightly toasted) and letters you can pull up and read for yourself. The story is hilarious as Alexander’s predicament grows, and just when it takes a bittersweet turn, we get the hope of a sequel. The laser-cut correspondence is a fun addition to the story, and the full-color, cartoony artwork will appeal to readers. The scrawled black text reminds me of Oliver Jeffers’ lettering. Absolute fun for the holidays. If you’re buying this for your library, put it an extra copy in your storytime reference to keep one safe. This one will be loved quite a bit.

For the adventure seeker:

Atlas Obscura: Explorer’s Guide for the World’s Most Adventurous Kid, by Dylan Thuras and Rosemary Mosco/Illustrated by Joy Ang, (Sept. 2018, Workman), $19.95, ISBN: 978-1-5235-0354-4

Ages 8-12

Here’s one for the kids who love the offbeat, quirky, and awe-inspiring things in life: Atlas Obscura is the kids’ companion to the website and adult guide book and is all about 100 of the most “weird but true” places on earth. Discover the Door to Hell in Turkmenistan (it’s a drilling accident gone terribly wrong), then head to Germany to ride a rollercoaster in the Wunderland Kalkar – an abandoned nuclear power plant. Check out the world’s seed bank in Norway, or visit an underwater museum near the Canary Islands.

Full-color illustrations offer an incredible point of view, and each site includes a locator globe and longitude and latitude (ahem… program in a book). A packing list – in case you’re so motivated – and explorer’s tips, along with alternate travel routes, methods of travel by speed, and height comparisons of attractions from biggest to smallest help with travel planning, and a list of further reading will have your world explorers putting up maps and pins in their rooms. This is just way too much fun. Give this to all the kids you normally hand your National Geographic gifts to, and you’ll be the favorite for another year running.

A World of Cities: From Paris to Tokyo and beyond, a celebration of the world’s most famous cities, by James Brown, (July 2018, Candlewick Studios), $25, ISBN: 9780763698799

Ages 8-12

Visit 30 of the world’s most famous cities with this book as your guide! It’s an oversize book with two- or 3-color tourism poster artwork and facts on each spread. Did you know Dubai has its own archipelago of artificial islands? Or that Albert Einstein’s eyeballs are stored in a safe-deposit box in New York City? There are tons of fun facts here, all assembled to create a stylized art book that takes armchair travelers to the bright lights and big cities of the world.

This is a follow-up to James Brown’s A World of Information, for anyone who’s a fan of infographics style information delivery.

 

For the animal lovers:

Heroes: Incredible True Stories of Courageous Animals, by David Long/Illustrated by Kerry Hyndman, (Nov. 2018, Faber & Faber), $22.95, ISBN: 978-0-5713-4210-5

Ages 9-13

I loved the companion series to this book, the more human-focused Survivors, that came out earlier this year, so I dove into Heroes when the publisher sent me a copy. If you and your kids loved Survivors, you’re going to love Heroes, with 33 stories of courageous animals (and an epilogue about London’s Animals in War Memorial). It’s more than an “I Survived” starring animals; these are stories about how we rely on animals to survive and to thrive. There’s Rip, the terrier who rescued people trapped in the rubble of the London Blitz during World War II: “…somehow having Rip around made things more bearable… if Rip could cope with the war, so they [the people]”; and Mary of Exeter, a messenger pigeon who spent five years carrying messages back and forth between England and France during World War II and who’s buried alongside Rip and Beauty, another WWII hero dog profiled here. Kerry Hyndman’s illustrations are all at once intense and beautiful, and David Long’s tributes are filled with respect for these companions. Read with a box of tissues nearby. Give to your animal fans and your adventure story fans.

 

Fly With  Me: A Celebration of Birds Through Pictures, Poems, and Stories, by Jane Yolen, Heidi EY Stemple, Adam Stemple, and Jason Stemple, (Oct. 2018, NatGeo Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-3181-7

Ages 8+

A compendium of all things bird for your bird-readers and watchers, Fly With Me has everything you’d want to know about birds: the physical characteristics, history (dino birds!), state bird profiles, songs, migration, and birding in your own backyard are just a few areas. There’s an emphasis on conservation and activism, and the section on birds in the arts is fantastic for your budding artists. The photos are jaw-dropping, with colors that burst off the page, and gorgeous illustrations. Endpapers are loaded with bird-related quotes, including one of my favorites: “If it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like  duck, it must be a duck”. Back matter is loaded with additional resources. Pull some of the poems out and use them in your storytimes!

 

For the poetry reader:

Sing a Song of Seasons: A Nature Poem for Each Day of the Year, selected by Fiona Waters/Illustrated by Frann Preston-Gannon, (Oct. 2018, Nosy Crow), $40, ISBN: 9781536202472

All Ages

There’s a poem for every single day of the year in this book. From January 1st through December 31st, greet each day with a poem and a beautiful illustration. Poets include Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Frost, Ogden Nash, ee cummings, and John Updike, and poems are indexed by poet name, poem title, and first lines. This is a gorgeous gift: the illustrations are absolutely beautiful, with cold winter scenes, green fall forests, and colorful, shell-covered beaches. Start the day off, or end a day, snuggled up with a poem.

This one’s a great gift for grownups, too – librarians and teachers, put this on your wish list and you’ll be thrilled to add new poems and fingerplays to your storytimes. I’m currently trying to think of hand movements to add to Alastair Reid’s “Squishy Words (To Be Said When Wet)” (August 4th).

Sing a Song of Seasons has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

The Poetry of US: More Than 200 poems that celebrate the people, places, and passions of the United States, Edited by J. Patrick Lewis, former US Children’s Poet Laureate, (Sept. 2018, NatGeo Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-3185-5

All Ages

This is another incredible poetry volume, all celebrating the United States: it’s a love letter to the country, compiled by former US Children’s Poet Laureate J. Patrick Lewis. Organized by region: New England, Mid-Atlantic, Southeast, Midwest, Great Plains, Rocky Mountain West, Pacific Coast, and Territories, over 200 poems celebrate the natural beauty of our lands and our rich cultural and diverse history. “Never Say No” by Laurie Purdie Salas is all about the perfection of a Philly cheesesteak, while Linda Sue Park’s “Asian Market” – showcased here in both English and Korean –  is a tantalizing tribute to the smells and sights of eating at an Asian food market. Reuben Jackson’s haunting “For Trayvon Martin” is side by side with J. Patrick Lewis’ “The Innocent”, a poem for Emmett Till. “Spelling Bee”, an acrostic by Avis Harley, is a nod to the Scripps Spelling Bee, and Allan Wolf’s “Champion Betty” celebrates a competitor at the Westminster Kennell Club Dog Show. There are poems about beaches and forests, Disney and weddings; there are poems in Korean and Spanish, and poems that shine a light on how far we have to go. It’s America, and these voices are why it’s beautiful.

For your reader who loves the classics:

Into the Jungle: Stories for Mowgli, by Katherine Rundell/Illustrated by Kristjana S. Williams, (Oct. 2018, Walker Books), $24.99, ISBN: 9781536205275

Ages 8-12

The flap of Into the Jungle says it best: “To turn the page of The Jungle Book is to long for more tales of Mowgli the man-cub, Baheera the panther, Baloo the bear, and Kaa the python”. Into the Jungle is a companion to the classic Rudyard Kipling book, enriching readers with five more stories about Mowgli and his companions: “Before Mother Wolf Was a Mother, She Was a Fighter”; “Bagheera’s Cage”; “Baloo’s Courage”; “Kaa’s Dance”, and “Mowgli” all bring back fan favorite characters and deliver themes of empathy, kindness, and understanding across species, cultures, and genders. Katherine Rundell has given Kipling’s classic – and, by extension, his fans – new life, and new relevance in a world very different – and sadly, not so different – from 1894.

Illustrations are full-color and created in collage, using Victorian engravings, to give an historical feel with incredible texture. Humans and animals alike share expressive faces and body language, and the lush Indian jungle unfurls itself to readers, beckoning them to join them in the pages. A gorgeous gift book.

I hope that helps with some shopping lists! Happy Holidays, all!
Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Halloween YA Reading: Slender Man, by Anonymous

Slender Man, by Anonymous, (Oct. 2018, Harper Voyager), $15.99, ISBN: 9780062641175

Ages 13+

Most of us are familiar with Slender Man, right? The whole creepypasta fanfic writing and fanart phenomenon gone viral, that some people took way too seriously? If you need a little brushing up on your Slender Man lore, there’s a comprehensive piece in the Washington Post from 2016.

This is my first foray into actual Slender Man writing – most of what I know about the whole business is hearsay from social media – so I was interested in diving in and seeing what the big deal was about. A teen named Matt Barker is kind of an outcast, kind of a loner. He’s in therapy, and his therapist suggests he keep a journal. Matt’s journal entries make up a large part of the Slender Man story, enhanced by clips of newspaper articles, police interviews, online forums, and text conversations. Matt and his schoolmates are a largely well-off group of white kids, living in New York City, where they attend a a prestigious private school. When Matt’s best friend, Lauren, disappears, it sets off a series of nightmares where Matt dreams of trees, sky, and something sinister, just waiting for him. He has to decide whether or not to take matters into his own hands and find Lauren before Slender Man can hurt her.

A line in the book says that the best Slender Man fiction doesn’t actually star Slender Man, but rather uses his background presence to strike fear into readers. I don’t feel like this story achieved that. It had its creepy moments, and was a quick read, but ultimately, fell flat for me. It was on the verge of something more: more psychological, more insidious, but never really got there. Maybe more devoted Slender Man readers will appreciate this one; I want to check with the teens in my library and take the temperature of the group before I decide I was just the wrong audience for this one.

Posted in Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

New Year, New Nonfiction!

There’s some great nonfiction coming up in just a few short weeks. From fandoms to crafting, freaky animals to an unusual pen pal, there’s a little something here for everyone.

Outrageous Animal Adaptations: From Big-Eared Bats to Frill-Necked Lizards, by Michael J. Rosen,
(Jan. 2018, Lerner Publishing), $37.32, ISBN: 9781512429992
Good for readers 10-15
Animals with unusual adaptation take center stage here, from the frill-necked lizard that runs across the desert on two legs to a vampire squid, who uses its bioluminescence to startle predators. Outrageous Animal Adaptations is loaded with full-color pictures and facts; each featured animal has callouts on its adaptation, curious facts, and a box with classification information. At only 96 pages, though, the price is steep for my wee budget, so if this isn’t a centrally purchased book for my collection, I have to be honest; I’ll probably see where I can find a more reasonably priced option.
Fandom: Fic Writers, Vidders, Gamers, Artists, and Cosplayers, by Francesca Davis DiPiazza/Illustrated by Shauna Lynn Panczyszyn,
(Jan. 2018, Lerner Publishing), $37.32, ISBN: 9781512450491
Good for readers 12-16
What a time to be a fan! Fandom has gone behemoth; New York Comic-Con is the new San Diego, and people are writing their academic theses on fanfic. I feel like my tweenage self has finally been vindicated; now, if only my Wookiees Need Love, Too t-shirt still fit. Fandom: Fic Writers, Vidders, Gamers, Artists, and Cosplayers is a great, in-depth look at some of the most-loved facets of fandom: fan fiction, cosplay, vidding, gaming, and fan art. There are color photos and input from fans; tips and advice, and a nice history of fandom for newcomers and old guard alike. There’s a strong emphasis on the communities we build as fans, and extra attention paid to the more recent Cosplay is Not Consent movement taking place at fan conventions and meetups. The book looks at the positive aspects of fandom – there’s been a lot of ink spent on the in-fighting and “fake geek girl” foolishness out there – and it’s nice to read an upbeat book about fan communities. The big sticking point here is the price. At over $37 for this book, I can buy two copies of Sam Maggs’ Fangirls Guide to the Galaxy – a great readalike and an awesome book, but I’d love to have both on my shelves, you know? It’s a hard call, because this really is a good book, well-written and well-presented, and readers will definitely be drawn to it. If you’ve got the budget, go for it.
The Craft-a-Day Book: 30 Projects to Make with Recycled Materials, by Kari Cornell/Photos by Jennifer S. Larson,
(Jan. 2018, Lerner Publishing), $39.98, ISBN: 9781512413137
Good for readers and crafters 12-16
Written with an eye toward high school and college students, crafter Kari Cornell talks about finding inspiration and repurposing everything from old tin cans to mismatched socks to create new crafts. She’s big on thrift store shopping and materials swaps with friends, and she’s all about reduce, reuse, and recycle. There are 30 projects, with varying degrees of difficulty and skill, for teens to take on and make their own. Step-by-step instructions help crafters navigate projects. The crafts are fun and I love Kari Cornell’s ideas for inspiration, but there wasn’t a lot of new craft ideas to be found. I’d rather stick with books like Generation T, Sophie Maletsky’s Sticky Fingers duct tape book, and Quirk Books’ craft line of books, all of which have similar projects and… yup, they’re more affordable.
Dear Komodo Dragon, by Nancy Kelly Allen/Illustrated by Laurie Allen Klein,
(Feb. 2018, Arbordale Publishing, $17.95, ISBN: 9781607184492
Good for readers 4-9
A story about a girl with an unlikely pen pal – an honest-to-goodness, real Komodo dragon, gives kids loads of facts and teaches environmental awareness.  A young girl named Les writes to a Komodo dragon who goes by the name Komo (fair enough). She and the dragon learn about one another through fun dialogue; Les wants to know if he breathes fire, Komo is amused and corrects her knowledge with facts. The dialogue is often humorous; very tongue-in-cheek, and we see Les go from a girl dressed like a knight and ready to fight a dragon to someone who understands the threats Komodo dragons live with, be it from other, bigger dragons or from man. The artwork is soft, yet realistic; the letters appear on each spread, over the artwork, almost scrapbook-like in format. Kids will enjoy learning through the dialogue between dragon and human. As with all Arbordale books, there is a For Creative Minds session with additional facts and information. There will be a Spanish translation available.
Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant, by Jennifer Keats Curtis/Illustrated by Phyllis Saroff,
(Feb. 2018, Arbordale Publishing), $17.95, ISBN: 9781607184508
Good for readers 5-10
Based on a true story, Maggie: Alaska’s Last Elephant is the story of Maggie, an elephant living at the Alaska Zoo with an older elephant named Annabelle. When Annabelle dies, Maggie is left alone and becomes despondent. Elephants are social animals; with no other elephant to befriend, and living outside of her own habitat, Maggie spends years holding onto a tire. Zookeepers ultimately make the decision to send Maggie to live at the PAWS Sanctuary, where she now lives with a herd of elephants. Maggie’s story is heartbreaking; the realistic artwork beautifully and achingly conveys emotion, from Maggie’s joy with Annabelle to her despondence, clinging to her tire, alone in her pen. This is a strong story about making good decisions and making the decisions that benefit others; putting others first, and living with empathy. The Creative Minds section includes a Q&A with elephant keeper Michelle Harvey, and touches on Maggie’s care at PAWS; the PAWS website has several videos available, including Maggie’s arrival from Alaska in 2000, and Maggie joining the herd of elephants. I’ve become an Arbordale fan since encountering their books at KidLitCon this year; they put out consistently good nonfiction for younger readers and have extra resources available online to extend learning.
Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Love, Lucas is in paperback! Read an excerpt.

61608104718690LLove, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (2015, Sky Pony Press), $9.99, ISBN: 9781510709928

Recommended for ages 13+

 

I reviewed Love, Lucas when it was originally published in hardcover last year. You can read my review here. To celebrate the book’s paperback release, I’m posting a 5-page excerpt, courtesy of Sky Pony Press. Read on and enjoy!

Love, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (Excerpt)

CHAPTER 1

Everyone tells me funerals help with the grieving process, but I think those people are full of crap. If anything, they make you more depressed than you already are.

I stare at my brother’s casket as we gather around the gravesite. A few inches of snow covers the ground around us and I shiver at the cold breeze biting at my skin. Dad blows his nose and I glance over and see Mom crying into the shoulder of his coat. I’m not sure how she even has tears left.

I know I’m supposed to feel something. Anything. Relief that Lucas is out of pain. Anger that he was taken so early from us. Sadness that I’ll never hear his laugh or see his smiling face again.

Instead I feel only a hollow emptiness inside my chest. He took part of me with him. I can already feel the hole he left behind, waiting for something to fill it. But I know no one can ever take the place of my best friend.

Mom grabs my arm and gives it a squeeze. She holds out a tissue but I don’t take it. I haven’t cried since the night at the hospital. The night he left us. I know so much emotion is built up inside of me, looking for a chance to escape, but for some reason I can’t, no, won’t let it out. Something’s wrong with me.

Dad wraps an arm around my waist. I don’t move. My arms are like weights at my side. Lifeless. Like Lucas.

Mom says something to me and presses a long stemmed rose into my hand. I stare at it and say nothing. I’ve always hated flowers at funerals. They’re supposed to make you feel happy. Not depressed.

People around me move one by one toward the casket and place their roses on top. As I watch them, my fist closes and I crush the delicate petals of my flower into my palm. The maimed rose slides from my fingers and drops to the ground.

I can’t handle this. Everyone is so sad. Red faces, puffy eyes. The world seems to move in slow motion as Dad places his rose on the casket. Mom does the same. My breath catches as I notice everyone staring at me, waiting for me to do something. Anything.

Dad urges me forward to take my turn, but my feet refuse to move. He keeps his hand on my back and I take a deep breath before I look up at him. His eyes are sad as they fall on the pieces of the rose at my feet. He doesn’t say anything about it, just grabs my hand and meets my gaze, but the look

he gives me while his eyes fill with tears is more than I can handle. I have to get out of here. I step away from him, take one last look at the casket, and turn around.

“Oakley? Where are you going?” Dad asks.

I don’t answer, just push past him and move through the crowd as my heart hammers in my chest.

Mom calls my name. Dad calls for me, too. I keep walking and don’t look back.

 

 

CHAPTER 2

My parents are arguing again. Mom quit her job at the bank. It didn’t go over very well with Dad, who has thrown himself into his job like a madman. I know they’re both grieving in their own ways but they should talk to each other about it, not fight. Fighting gets you nowhere.

I listen to their raised voices for a moment and put on my headphones when Mom starts crying. I can’t handle hearing her sob all night again, so I turn my iPod on and music blasts in my ears. Nothing like a bunch of guitars and screaming to drown out my parents and my own thoughts. If I can’t hear them, they’re not there.

I lie on my bed and stare at the glow-in-the-dark stars that light up the ceiling. Lucas bought them for me for my sixteenth birthday. He even made his own constellation out of them and called it Luca Major. Stupid, but funny. It makes me miss him even more.

The light flips on and I turn my head to see Mom standing in the doorway. I pause my music and sit up.

“Sorry,” she says. “I knocked, but you didn’t answer.”

I shrug. “It’s fine.” My voice is hoarse. It was so hard for me to say those two words. I haven’t spoken since the funeral three days ago, and no one’s really spoken to me either.

She hesitates in the doorway but finally comes to sit on the edge of my bed. “Oakley,” she starts. She takes a deep breath and reaches out to tuck my dark hair behind my ear. I pull away from her touch. After all the time and energy she’s spent on my brother the past few years, it’s foreign to me. “Your father and I have been talking. I’ve decided to go live with Aunt Jo for a while. Maybe just until summer. I need some time . . .” She swallows and blinks back the moisture in her eyes. “I need time away

from here for a while.”

“Okay . . .” I say. Great. She’s abandoning me. First Lucas, now her. I breathe in and out. I still don’t feel much. Just empty.

“I wanted to see if . . . well . . .” She smoothes my hair down, and though I consider protesting, I let her. “Honey, I want you to come with me.”

My heart races. “You’re not getting divorced, are you?” I pray she says no. I can’t handle anything else going wrong. Not now. Not when I need at least some normalcy in my life.

She shakes her head. “No. Your father and I are fine. We just . . . grieve differently.” The way she says it confirms that they’re not fine. She takes a shaky breath. “Anyway, just think about coming with me, okay? You don’t have to be in school since you graduated early, and you don’t have a job or anything. I think it could be good for you to get away from everything.”

I think about her offer. Even though I’ll miss Dad, I’d love to get away. I could leave my depressing life behind for the spring and maybe heal a little before I have to decide what to do with my life. College and all that crap. I’ll leave my house and put all the memories of Lucas and my old friends and their whispers behind my back. It would be nice to get away from it all. Away from the uncomfortable silence whenever I see anyone who knows me. I know they aren’t sure what to say; I mean, what do you say to someone who just lost her brother? Even if they have something to say, I’m not sure I’d want to hear it anyway.

“Remember, Jo lives in California now, if that makes a difference. Huntington Beach. She has a really nice house with room to spare.”

I crack a smile. It feels strange on my lips but it’s a start. If I go with Mom, I could use my camera again. The thought of taking pictures comforts me. Just a little. I turn toward her and meet her eyes. “Okay,” I whisper.

She puts her arms around me in an awkward hug. I’m not sure what to do with my own arms, so I lift one and softly pat her back. Physical contact has been nonexistent with her for a while now. She’s not the touchy-feely type. We get along well enough, but for her to hug me . . . I’m sure it takes a lot.

“We’re going to be okay,” she says. It sounds like she’s trying to reassure herself more than me. She pulls away, pats my leg, and stands. “We’re leaving tomorrow morning, so you’d better start packing. I’ve already booked the flights.”

I frown. That doesn’t surprise me at all. “So . . . you were going to drag me there whether I wanted to go or not?”

She shrugs. “I think it will be good for you. For us.”

I want to say something else but don’t have the energy as thoughts of Lucas pop into my head again. Instead, I swallow the lump in my throat, give her a quick nod, and she leaves me alone.

Spending the next few months with Aunt Jo might be a good thing. She’s a marine biologist or veterinarian or something, so maybe she’ll distract me with some of her work. And I’ve never been to a real beach before since our family doesn’t really leave the state of Utah. The only beachy place I’ve been is Antelope Island. This tiny island in the middle of the Great Salt Lake that’s covered with mosquitoes, flies, and brine shrimp. As for animals, I’m sure there are a few antelope here and there, but I’ve never seen any. Just a whole lot of buffalo. Antelope Island . . . covered in buffalo. Go figure.

A real beach. The thought sounds amazing. I’ve only seen pictures of Aunt Jo in the ocean. I’d love to have some photos of my own to hang on my wall. I climb off my bed and go look for a suitcase. Tomorrow can’t come soon enough.

My ears pop as we land in California. Mom grabs her

carry-on from the overhead compartment and passes me my guitar. I already have my backpack on my lap. We both keep our jumbled thoughts to ourselves. When the line starts to move, I stand, and we follow the crowd and exit the stuffy plane.

Aunt Jo is waiting for us at baggage claim. She runs to Mom and they hug forever, even though they saw each other at the funeral four days ago. Everyone around us is staring, so I move away from them and wait for our suitcases to come down the chute and onto the turnstile. I don’t want to talk about Lucas, so I let them have a moment to themselves.

“How are you doing, Oakley? You hangin’ in there?”

I flinch at Jo’s hand on my shoulder. “I’m good.” I grab my suitcase and she lets go. I don’t miss the look she gives Mom.

They’re worried about me. They can see through the fake smile I put on for everyone who asks how I’m doing. I don’t know why I pretend everything’s okay when clearly it’s not. Lucas is gone. How can anything be okay when he’s not here? He was the only person in my life I could count on.

“Oakley, honey, you ready?” Mom looks over at me with a sad but hopeful smile.

“Yes.” I throw my backpack over my shoulder and my guitar over the other and follow them to the car, dragging my suitcase behind me.

The drive to Jo’s house is quiet. I study her and my mom for a while. It’s weird that they’re even sisters. They look nothing alike. Mom’s short dark hair is neat and straight, while Jo’s is long with light wild curls. Mom is pale with soft skin, and Jo is tan and rough-looking from being outside all the time. I look like Mom. Dark hair and pale skin. Sort of like death.

They’re so different. Their lives especially. Mom married Dad when she was only nineteen. They were high school sweethearts. Obviously it isn’t working out too well. I wonder why Jo never married, but I don’t ask. I’m not in the mood for conversation.

Jo’s house is beautiful. It’s right across the street from the beach. There are windows everywhere. Huge rectangular windows that face the ocean. I’ve always dreamed of living in a house like this. It seems so peaceful. Safe from whispers and gossip. Just what I need.

“You like it?” Jo asks.

I meet her eyes in the rearview mirror and smile. “It’s perfect.”

She puts the car in park and glances at Mom for a second before looking at me again. “I fixed one of the guest rooms up for you so you’ll have some privacy while you’re here. I remember what it was like being a teenager. And your mom told me you like your space. Hopefully you can call it your home away from home for a while.” She gives me a wink before she gets out.

I open the door and step outside as well, breathing in the salty air. It’s strange and different from what I’m used to back home, but right and wonderful at the same time. This is where I’m supposed to be right now and I’m so happy I came.

Palm trees peak around the edge of the house and I have the sudden desire to climb one. I breathe in the ocean air again and grin. For some reason I feel lighter than before. Like all my troubles will magically melt away the moment I step into that beautiful house. But as memories of the past few weeks slam into me again, I realize the depressing fact that fantasy never wins over reality. Even when it should.

We unload our bags and I follow Jo and Mom up the front steps. Jo opens the door and Mom steps back so I can go in first. My jaw drops as I look around.

The inside is gorgeous. Sunlight spills in through the windows, making it almost as bright as outside. The rooms are open. Not stuffy or crowded, but roomy. I’m surprised by Jo’s color choice. The furniture is white, with yellow flowers and throw pillows to accent the living room. A perfect choice for a house like this.

I drop my bags near the door for a moment and take my time walking around the front room, admiring the little seashells accenting the tables. Of course they’re not plastic. They’re very real, and that makes me happy.

Mom’s heels click on the white tile floor and echo through the house. She turns around and smiles. “Jo, I love it,” she says. “It’s amazing.”

“Thanks. It was a bunch of work fixing it up, but I think it turned out nicely.” Jo smiles and turns to me. “Your room is the last one on the left if you want to check it out.”

I grab my bags as I make my way down the hall and open my bedroom door. My eyes widen as I see how big it is. A bed dominates most of the room, with a dresser and mirror across from it. The same sort of decorations are in here as well. Seashells on the glass nightstand near the bed and a few pictures of the ocean hung up on the walls. I throw my backpack on the ground and set my guitar on the bed. My fingers skim the pretty white bedspread. It’s not quite my style, since my room back home is decorated with orange, pink, and lime green, but it works.

I glance around and notice a walk-in closet. Nice. Not that I have a ton of clothes, but still. My favorite part of the room is the French doors that lead outside to a small covered patio. I peek out the window and grin. There’s a hammock and lounge chair and a huge swimming pool. It’s nice and blue. Clean. I wonder if Jo has a pool man, since she obviously makes a ton of money to live in a place like this.

I walk around for a while and go through the fence to the front yard. It’s surreal to be so close to the ocean. My feet start walking on their own and I cross the street and head toward the sand and waves. My first time ever at a beach, and I’ve heard Huntington is really nice.

My flip-flops are covered in sand so I slip them off. I smile at the feel of the sand between my toes. Again, I feel safe. Free. Ready for a new beginning.

The beach is different than I imagined. In all the pictures I’ve seen, there are always a ton of people lying on the sand, tanning. I look around. There aren’t a lot of people out at all. At least not today. An older couple sits a few yards away under big umbrellas. The lady is reading a book and the man I assume is her husband is taking a nap. A few people are playing volleyball further down the beach and there are some surfers bobbing in the water.

It’s like heaven. I walk until I feel the icy ocean water touch my feet. It sends a little shock through my body, but I don’t care. It’s awesome. After a few minutes of watching the tiny waves roll up around my ankles while my feet sink into the mud, I walk back up the beach and sit down in the sand. It’s warm, but a cool breeze caresses my skin. Fascinated, I watch the waves crash into the beach and the surfers riding them so effortlessly.

I sink my toes deeper into the sand and smile. I think I’m going to like it here.

Posted in Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen

Love, Lucas – A story of grief, letting go, and moving on

61608104718690LLove, Lucas, by Chantele Sedgwick (2015, Sky Pony Press), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-63220-417-2

Recommended for ages 13+

Oakley Nelson’s reeling from the loss of her brother, Lucas, to bone cancer. She’s spent the last few months at his bedside, pulling away from friends, activities, and life. With her parents’ marriage in a tailspin, Oakley and her mom head to California to spend some time with her Aunt Jo, hoping the change of scenery will give them the space they need to recover.

Once in California, Oakley’s mom gives her a notebook, filled with letters written to her by Lucas. He leaves her with life lessons, small observations, and wry humor to help her move on, and she clings to the notebook like a life raft as she navigates getting to know the local teens in her aunt’s neighborhood, including Carson, a good-looking surfer who’s unlike any guy she’s ever met. She’s caught between her feelings for Carson and feeling guilty about moving on too quickly, but as she turns to Lucas’ own words for guidance and comfort, she realizes that going on with her life is exactly what Lucas wants her to do.

This is a moving YA novel dealing with grief, loss, and the fallout that happens when a terminally ill family member dies. Oakley’s anchor is gone when Lucas, her best friend and brother, dies; she’s devoted the last few months to him, abandoning friends and extracurricular activities. Her parents’ relationship is in turmoil, and with all the attention focused on Lucas, she doesn’t feel she can rely on either of them. She feels out of touch with other teens when she meets Carson and his friends, and her internal narrative is focused on how awkward she feels, and she often looks at herself with a self-deprecating sense of humor that’s funny and at the same time, teens will recognize and appreciate.

Love, Lucas will appeal to John Green, Gayle Forman, and Sarah Dessen fans. There’s romance, finding inner strength in the face of tragedy/adversity, and introspective dialogue that teens today gravitate to.

Chantele Sedgwick is the author of Not Your Average Fairy Tale and Not Your Average Happy Ending (Sarah Dessen fans, recognize!). Her author site offers more information about her books and

 

Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade

Cybils Middle Grade At-a-Glance: The Meaning of Maggie & All Four Stars

I’ve been quiet lately, because I’ve been plowing through my Cybils middle grade fiction nominees. Here are some thoughts.

meaning of maggieThe Meaning of Maggie, by Megan Jean Sovern (2014, Chronicle Books) $16.99, ISBN: 978-1452110219

Recommended for ages 9-12

Set in the 1980s, Maggie’s an 11 year-old girl who wants to be president one day. She’s funny, quirky, and seemingly always at odds with her two older sisters. Her family is coping with her father’s increasingly worsening multiple sclerosis, the severity of which they try to shield from Maggie.

I enjoyed this book, in part because one of my childhood friends lost her mom to MS. Reading this book helped me, in a way, understand what my friend went through all those years ago, when we were all far too young to understand it. The author drew upon her own life to write this book, and for that, I’m thankful. Maggie is engaging and quirky, and as frustrating as I found her dad, in his ultimate quest to “be cool”, I saw his struggle to hang on when everything was falling apart around him.

all four stars coverAll Four Stars, by Tara Dairman (2014, Putnam Juvenile), $16.99, ISBN: 978-0399162527

Recommended for ages 9-12

An 11 year-old foodie raised by junk food junkies has to be one of the best story plots I’ve come across in a while!

Gladys LOVES cooking. It’s her passion. She has a cookbook collection, watches cooking shows with a passion her classmates reserve for video games… and her parents just don’t get it. They microwave everything that they don’t bring home in a greasy bag. How can a foodie live like this?

When Gladys enters an essay contest for the New York Standard newspaper, her essay ends up in the hands of the food editor – who thinks it’s a cover letter. Gladys finds herself with a freelance assignment – to test out a new dessert restaurant in Manhattan! How can she visit the restaurant and write her review without her parents catching on?

This book just made me happy. It’s a fun story, with an instantly likable main character. Even her antagonists are likable, if a bit clueless. The plot moves along at a great pace, and I found myself chuckling out loud at some of the situations Gladys found herself in while trying to keep her secret. This is a great book to put into kids’ hands, a welcome lift from the heaviness that seems to permeate middle grade realistic fiction these days. I can’t wait to read the sequel, The Stars of Summer, when it hits shelves this summer.