Posted in Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Authors explore an explosive year in 1789

1789: Twelve Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change, edited by Marc Aronson & Susan Campbell Bartoletti, (Sept. 2020, Candlewick Press), $22.99, ISBN: 9781536208733

Ages 12+

America wasn’t the only one feeling growing pains in 1789. Marc Aronson and Susan Campbell Bartoletti, who edited and contributed to 2018’s 1968: Today’s Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change, have put together another stellar examination of a contentious year in global history with 1789: Twelve Authors Explore a Year of Rebellion, Revolution, and Change. All-star authors, including Aronson and Bartoletti, Tanya Lee Stone, Steve Sheinkin, Joyce Hansen, and Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson, take on the big events and questions that rocked the world that year: what does “The Rights of Man” mean? White men? Nobles and kings? What about enslaved people and indigenous people? The Bill of Rights was ratified in the United States while France burned toward revolution; fishwives took to the streets and Marie Antoinette’s portrait artist captured the human side of an untouchable royal. Sailors mutinied, slaves told their stories, and mathematicians calculated the digits of pi. Organized into sections entitled “Exhilaration”, “Abomination”, “Inspiration”, and “Conclusions”, essays cover the excitement of change and discovery, the horror of enslavement, and the journey toward progress. It’s a truly holistic view of a pivotal year in history, and each essay broadens the reader’s world as they connect the dots to come away with a full picture of how one event can, like a snowball rolling downhill, engulf all in its path.

Publisher Candlewick offers a sample chapter on their website as well as an educator’s guide. Back matter includes comprehensive author notes, source notes, and a bibliography. 1789 has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publishers Weekly.

Posted in Humor, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Dear Fahrenheit 451: A Librarian’s Letters to Books

Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks, by Annie Spence, (Sept. 2017, Flatiron Books), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250106490

Recommended for readers 16+

Dear Fahrenheit 451 is the kind of book I wish I’d written. It’s the kind of book all book lovers kind of write in our mind, but Annie Spence is the one who took it and turned it into literary gold.

Librarians weed. It’s kind of our job. But book lovers (usually) weed, too, right? You stare at that overworked bookshelf, and you know that some of those books are visitors, whose time has come to go and visit other readers; some, like your Neil Gaiman books, your Doctor Who novels, and your Gail Carriger books, have permanent residency on those shelves. (Or is that just me?) You weed, talking to yourself as you go, letting the books – and yourself – down easy: “You were so much fun during my chick lit phase! But you know… I’m sure they’ll love you at the library, think of how many other people will love you.” Or, “Good lord, you’re still here?  You need to go; you don’t have to go to the trash, but you can’t stay here. Is Book Crossing still live?”

Annie Spence writes letters to books (and, in one story that got me a look on the bus when I seal-bark laughed out loud, a bookshelf) in her library, in her home, anywhere. She writes to Frog and Toad and tells them everything I wanted to say but never realized. She has an wonderful obsession with Jeffrey Eugenides (as a Neil Gaiman fangirl, I relate) and feels bad for a much-loved copy of The Goldfinch. Her essays are funny and touching and my friends are tired of me texting them, saying, “Wait, you have to read this part”; one friend finally texted back, “I’m requesting the book now, can you STOP?”

The second half of the book moves from her letters to brief essays – lists, really – that book lovers will adore: Excuses to Tell Your Friends So You Can Stay Home with Your Books (so guilty); Readin’ Nerdy (books about librarians, whoo hoo!); Blind Date: Good Books with Bad Covers (you know we all think it), and Recovery Reads: books to read after you’ve been traumatized by a previous book (looking at you, A Monster Calls).

While it isn’t a teen book, it’s easily crossed over. It’s a great book to hand to teens who may not “get” reading. This. THIS is why we read, I will tell them. (Do you hear me, Alex Awards Committee?) Dear Fahrenheit 451 is perfect for book lovers. Annie Spence is one of us. *group hug*

Posted in Middle School, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Trying to Float: A New York Childhood

trying to floatTrying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel, by Nicolaia Rips, (July 2016, Scribner), $25, ISBN: 978-1501132988

Recommended for ages 14+

New York City’s Chelsea Hotel is part muse, part myth. Home to countless artists, luminaries, and eccentric personalities over since it opened its doors in the late 19th century, the Chelsea  seemingly received as much inspiration as it gave. Art decorated the walls of the hotel, often put there by artists moved to add their voice to the hotel’s presence. Among the more recent Chelsea residents were the Rips family: lawyer, Michael, model-turned-artist, Sheila, and their daughter, Nicolaia. It’s Nicolaia’s story we get in Trying to Float: Coming of Age in the Chelsea Hotel.

Nicolaia wrote the memoir of her formative years at the Chelsea before she graduated high school. The project was inspired by her parents, who told her to journal her stories from school and life in general – so kids, take those journaling assignments seriously! Nicolaia’s story, told in a series of anecdotes and memories, alternates between laugh-out loud funny and painfully spot on. She was the lonely kid in the crowd, her parents often wrapped up in their own eccentricities, and she seemed to figure out a lot on her own, or with the help of some of the Chelsea residents.

Her self-deprecation and her wise-beyond-her-years insights make this book an unputdownable read. Teens will love this because they’ll identify with so many moments: mortification at a birthday party, mean girls spreading rumors about you right in front of you, a parent making you want to move away and start life over under the teenager’s version of a witness/parent protection program. New Yorkers and people who love New York will love it because it’s a slice of life in New York City.

Trying to Float received a starred review from Kirkus. Do not miss this one. Get a copy for yourself, get a copy for a teen in your life, and booktalk it with some more New York stories. There are tons out there, including the photo essay book, Living in the Chelsea Hotel by Linda Troeller.

Posted in Non-Fiction, Tween Reads

Reasons to Smile spreads joy

reasons_covvReasons to Smile: Celebrating People Living with Down Syndrome, by Andrea Knauss & Elizabeth Martins (Feb. 2016, Schiffer Publishing), $14.99, ISBN: 9780764350405

Recommended for ages 12+

The world has been pretty horrifying lately. As I was straightening up my TBR pile, I found this book; it had fallen behind the stack and was passed over for a couple of months. Having finished it, I think that it was less of a mistake and more fortuitous timing: I needed this book at the moment I found it.

Reasons to Smile compiles 56 short profiles, celebrating people living with Down sydrome. Most are written by family and friends, and a few are written by those living with Down syndrome. Each profile features a picture, usually of the person spotlighted.

I’m not going to lie: you will well up reading some of these stories, but it will be a joyful welling up. The love, courage, and guidance coming from these writers made me feel just a little bit better about our world. I love that Andrea Knauss and Elizabeth Martins compiled this book out of love for their daughter and sister, Anna. Andrea writes that she’s “Anna’s Mom”; I’ve been “Will’s Mom”, “Alex’s Mom”, and now, “Gabe’s Mom”, and that little sentence connected this mom and I. We love our children. We fight for our kids. Knowing each other’s challenges brings us together just a little bit more.

Also included in the book is the renowned essay, “Welcome to Holland”, by Emily Perl Kingsley, which makes things so much easier to grasp. Another mom suggests giving this book as a baby shower gift to moms who may need it. I agree, but I’d take it one step further and put this on middle school reading lists. I see you raising an eyebrow, but stay with me. There are some great nonfiction works on summer reading lists, I see them. And disability in tween and teen lit is finally recognized and encouraged. A beautiful book on inspirational essays, featuring stories about families working with Down syndrome would be a smart move, to show the joy that comes hand in hand with the challenges; to show the smiles and read about the optimism and affection these families bring to the world.

I loved reading Reasons to Smile. It made me want to be a better person and a better mom. You can visit Andrea Knauss’ website, The Mighty, and find resources on parenting, Down syndrome, autism, and more.


Posted in Animal Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Humor, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

It’s Sweater Weather! (the graphic novel, not the forecast)

sweater weatherSweaterweather, by Sara Varon (Feb. 2016, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626721180

Recommended for ages 10+

You may have seen Sara Varon’s work before – she’s given us fun, all-ages graphic novels like Bake Sale, Chicken & Cat, and Odd Duck, and we’ll also be getting President Squid this year (review coming). She draws friendly, fun animals (and squids) in a cartoon style that makes you just want to curl up with these characters, have a cup of tea, and chat.

Sweaterweather is a re-issue of the original 2003 version, with extra stories and content. It’s done in two-color, and is part graphic novel story collection, part peek into Sara Varon’s creative brain. We have stories, essays, and journal entries existing together, an invite for kids and teens to take a load off and enjoy socially awkward animals wandering around Brooklyn and hey, while you’re here, see what goes on in the mind of a creative person!

Kids who love graphic novels and animal fiction will enjoy Sweaterweather for the stories. Creative kids will appreciate the big picture Sara Varon displays for them, and maybe, get them journaling and doodling on their own.

Sara Varon’s author website is great for burgeoning artists and fans. There are sections devoted to her books and illustrations, updates, and links to pages for her favorite illustrators and designers. She’s also an award-winning author/illustrator: Odd Duck was selected by Kirkus Reviews as one of the Best Children’s Books of 2013, Bake Sale was named a YALSA Great Graphic Novel for 2012, and Robot Dreams was on Oprah’s Kids’ Reading List in 2008. In 2013, Sara Varon was a Maurice Sendak Fellowship recipient.

Here’s a sneak peek at some of the artwork from Sweaterweather.

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