Posted in Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Bad Sister touches on sibling relationships

Bad Sister, by Charise Mericle Harper/Illustrated Rory Lucey, (Aug. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250219053

Ages 8-12

Award-winning author/artist Charise Mericle Harper writes a middle-grade memoir about her relationship with her younger brother in Bad Sister, and it will resonate with so many siblings who may feel conflicted about their own siblings. Charise is older, and therefore, better… right? Her younger brother, Daniel, is just such an attention-suck. He gets attention from her parents from the very beginning, he wants to play with her toys, he even monopolizes the family cat’s affection. Daniel gets hurt time and again, causing Charise to wonder: is she a bad sister? Try as she might, it’s hard being the eldest, and sometimes, she gets exasperated. But slowly, surely, as the two get a little older and a little more mature, they find themselves able to enjoy one another’s company more. Charise’s frustration is palpable, and the changing color palette alerts readers, with changes in her facial expressions and body language, plus cooler colors, particularly blues, calling the reader’s attention. Readers will see both sides of the equation – Daniel isn’t always guilt-free – and empathize with the injustices on either side. A good book for navigating sibling relationships, even close friend and classmate relationships, Charise Mericle Harper gets to the heart of family dynamics and doesn’t hide the highs and lows of these complicated relationships, going from antagonism, to guilt, to love and understanding with honesty and respect to the reader. Charise’s frustration is palpable, and the changing color palette alerts readers, with changes in her facial expressions and body language, plus cooler colors, particularly blues, calling the reader’s attention. Colors warm up as the two become closer.

Bad Sister has starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly, and is a Junior Library Guild selection. Visit Charise Mericle Harper’s website for printables, crafts, and comics!

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

Graphic novels: real-life stories

More graphic novels to talk about, this time, real-life stories. Some are realistic fiction, some are inspired by moments in the author’s life. All are great reading!

My Own World, by Mike Holmes, (June 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250208286
Ages 8-13
Inspired by events in his childhood, Wings of Fire and Secret Coders illustrator Mike Holmes delivers a graphic memoir with a splash of fantasy. Nathan is alone, but for his older brother, Ben. His other siblings and the neighborhood bullies torment him, but he always looks to Ben to spend time with; Ben is the one person who gets him. Unfortunately, there are things coming up that take Ben farther and farther away from Nathan, leaving him to create a fantasy world to escape to when the real world intrudes too much. A study in grief, loss, and healing, My Own World is a better reading choice for middle schoolers than younger readers; there’s trauma contained within these pages. It’s an excellent starting point for discussions on the lingering damage done by bullying, loneliness, and coping with loss. The real world is depicted in flat colors, but Nathan’s fantasy world is alive with color, vibrancy, and engaging characters that Nathan creates to spend time with.
My Own World has a starred review from Booklist.
Jukebox, by Nidhi Chanani, (June 2021, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250156372
Ages 10 to 14
Nidhi Chanani is amazing in her ability to create magical travels using everyday objects. She infused a shawl with the power to fantastical India in her 2017 award-winner, Pashmina; now, she weaves a story about a jukebox that can transport listeners to a moment in time, inspired by the albums they play, in Jukebox. Shaheen is a girl who feels like she and her mom come in second to her father’s love of – obsession with? – music, particularly with albums. He never seems to be present to hear her when she’s talking; he just wants to talk about the newest album he’s on the hunt for, and he spends hours searching record bins for new additions to his collection. When he doesn’t return home one night, Shaheen and her cousin, Tannaz, start a search, only to discover a glowing jukebox at the local record store where Dad spent so much of his time. A Bessie Smith record spins on the turntable, and the girls find themselves transported to Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom in 1929! The song ends, returning them to their present time and place, and the chase through musical history is on. The girls spin different records, visiting key moments in time. from political marches to landmark concerts, while searching for Shaheen’s father. Will they be able to find him before morning? Jukebox is an incredible journey through our history using music as the vehicle. Sections are organized by album cover, with Shaheen’s father’s notes on the albums and social climate, giving readers more context as they prepare to jump into a new decade: Bessie Smith’s section includes notes on the album’s 1929 release, the oncoming Depression, and a 1929 Oscar awards program; Nina Simone’s Black Gold includes a Golden State Comic Con program and a newspaper with an Earth Day headline, all of which happened in 1970. Notes from Shaheen’s father mention her career and marriage eroding in the 1960s, and the music industry’s punishment for her political music.
Brilliant storytelling and an essential look at the ties between music and social change. Visit Nidhi Chanani’s website for printables and more about her books, and get multiple copies of this book ready – your readers deserve them! If you’re doing a travel themed Summer Reading program this year, you couldn’t ask for a better concept: pick songs, get some facts, and create slideshows; invite readers to offer their own insight. What song was popular the year they graduated from kindergarten? What song makes them think of family? A favorite friend? Invite readers to talk about music from their culture that others may not know. There’s so much you can do here!
Turtle in Paradise, by Jennifer L. Holm/Illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau, (June 2021, Random House Graphic), $12.99, ISBN: 9780593126301
Ages 8-12
This graphic novel adaptation of Jennifer Holm’s 2010 Newbery Honor-winning novel is simply gorgeous. Set in 1935, eleven-year-old Turtle is a girl who’s had some tough times. She’s more level-headed than her mother, loves the movies, and really doesn’t like Shirley Temple. While figuring out where life will take her next, her mother sends Turtle to Key West, Florida, to live with her aunt when she takes a job housekeeping for a woman who doesn’t like children, and Turtle has never met her aunt or the many cousins she’s now living with. She starts getting into the swing of things, following the “Diaper Gang”: neighborhood boys with a babysitting club and a secret diaper rash formula that puts them in high demand. As she gets into a day-to-day groove, she learns some family secrets that leave her wanting more: more of her mother’s past, more of her family history, just… more. A family study, a piece of historical fiction that examines life in Depression-Era Florida, and a strong, smart female protagonist make this a great enough story, and then you Savanna Ganucheau’s artwork: filled with lush and humid outdoor spreads, we get a picture of 1930s life in Key West. Turtle’s cousins run barefoot through their day, while Turtle insists on her shoes. Babysitting moments are laugh-out loud funny, and Turtle interactions with a cantankerous senior citizen will make readers chuckle and admire the girl’s tenacity. Inspired by Jennifer Holm’s great-grandmother’s life in Key West, this is an adaptation that your readers will love and will absolutely gain the story some new fans.
Chunky, by Yehudi Mercado, (June 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $12.99, ISBN: 9780062972781
Ages 8-12
A memoir of Yehudi Mercado’s Mexican-Jewish upbringing, Chunky is more incredible storytelling. Set in the 1980s, Hudi has one lung after a childhood battle with lung disease, he’s overweight, and he loves video games, science fiction and fantasy, and being the funny kid. His parents want him to lose weight and be healthier, and try to push him toward different sports to get him more active. Hudi, not particularly in love with the idea, goes along with his parents to make them happy, but creates an imaginary friend: a pink-furred   cheerleader/mascot called Chunky, to cheer him on as he tries – and flops – at baseball, swimming, and tennis. Chunky is there to tell Yehudi he’s better at comedy and drawing; he’s Hudi’s inner compass, telling him to stay true to himself. When Hudi’s father loses his job and has to move to another state to find work, he finds himself faced with a crossroads and joins the football team in a last bid to fit the image his parents want to have of him. Chunky is more than a memoir; it’s a story of trying to please others before yourself; it’s a story of using humor as deflection; it’s a story of listening to your true self. Hudi is funny – he can’t help but crack up people he comes into contact with, especially medical professionals – and he’s pretty game to try anything his parents want, even if his heart may not be 100% committed. He’s good-natured and kind, which makes his break with Chunky painful when he attempts one more sport to satisfy his parents. We want funny Hudi back! We want to go get ice cream with him and feel like everything will work out! The artwork is bright, colorful, upbeat, and loaded with great details, like Hudi’s t-shirts (console video games! Chewbacca!) and his room, which his father constantly redecorates to affirm his dedication to the latest sport Hudi’s involved with – and that Chunky and Hudi take great pleasure in defacing time and time again. I can gush about Chunky all day, so let me just say that this is another must-add to your shelves.
Learn more about Yehudi Mercado and get a look at Chunky at his website. Chunky has a starred review from School Library Journal.
Posted in Early Reader, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate

There’s no break being The Middle Kid…

The Middle Kid, by Steven Weinberg, (March 2021, Chronicle Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781452181806

Ages 6-9

It’s hard being the middle kid! The middle kid gets blamed when their little sister is crying, the one who gets picked on when the big brother is mad, and they’re just stuck in the middle; never the oldest, never the youngest. The middle kid telling the story takes readers through a day in the life of The Middle, starting with woken up by his siblings, through his brother’s “toughness training”, and getting a breather when his mom takes him to the library. During an exploring adventure with his siblings, he discovers that he can fit places his brother’s too big for and his sister’s too little for: he’s the perfect size. This realization helps him finish his day by inviting his siblings to create a blanket fort in the living room. Sometimes, being in the middle means you’re the perfect fit. A fun look at the life of a middle child that kids will recognize (my middle kid sure did) and laugh along with. I loved that Mom recognized the importance of taking a breather and giving Middle Kid his own space and time away from the chaos of siblings. Endpapers look like the scribbled insides of a marble notebook, as does the cover of the book when you slip off the jacket. Digital collage artwork is lively and expressive. Kids are going to love this one.

The Middle Kid has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Read a book, hug the Earth, it’s Earth Day!

Some more books to love our Big Blue Dot by…

The House of Grass and Sky, Mary Lyn Ray/Illustrated by E. B. Goodale (April 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536200973

Ages 4-8

The touching story of a house that wants to be a home will appeal to little ones and their grownups alike. Once, the house “smelled of sunshine and new lumber”, and a family filled its days and nights with love and laughter. Families came and families went, but the house always waited, knowing a new family was on the way. Until there wasn’t. The house quietly waited, and bit by bit, nature claimed the area. Lonely, the house keeps its vigil… and is rewarded when a new family moves in, reclaiming the home, filling it with love, laughter, and family once again. It’s a gentle, moving story of memory, nature, and embracing renewal. The mixed media illustrations make the home as much a character of the story as the people in it. One spread shows the house standing alone, among shadows of memories: someone playing ball, a child with a wagon; someone on a tree swing. Mary Lyn Ray’s prose makes the house become real with sentences like, “The house learned about babies being born and babies growing up. It learned about bedtime stories and birthday parties.” Endpapers display an older wallpaper, giving a nice feel to the story. Just a beautiful, touching book that makes you want to find an old house and fill it with the love you have to give. Think about all the ways you can show your home love: plant some new plants, even if you live in an apartment. Repurpose old t-shirts and make them into throw pillows or quilts. There are so many things you can do!

Peppa Pig and the Earth Day Adventure, by Candlewick Press, (March 2021, Candlewick Press), $12.99, ISBN’: 9781536218985
Ages 2-5
It’s a new Peppa PigI! Today is Earth Day, and Peppa and her family are off to the Botanical Gardens once they finish sorting the recycling and composting. They get into Roger, the electric car, and head off for a fun day of learning how bees and flowers work together, see a Venus flytrap eat a fly, and play in the children’s garden! The kids in my library system love Peppa Pig, and this book will circulate like wildfire. Visit Peppa Pig’s website for Peppa news and activities.
The Forest : A Poster Book to Understand Everything about the World, by Emmanuelle Grundmann/Illustrated by Gal Weizman (March 2021, Schiffer Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9780764360992
Ages 5-8
It’s a poster book! It’s a giant fold-out book! It’s both! Unfold each page to read a new piece of information about the forest, and enjoy a seek and find that continues on each section. The book opens up into a giant poster that spans more than 2 feet! Great for a science club/Discovery Club program, kids will love watching you unfold page by page as you read about ants, frogs, badgers, and more forest friends.
The Sea: A Poster Book to Understand Everything about the World, by Véronique Sarano/Illustrated by Anine Bösenberg & Loris F. Alessandria (March 2021, Schiffer Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 9780764361005
Ages 5-8
The companion to The Forest, The Sea is another panoramic poster book. Seek and find fish and urchins and learn about underwater cliffs, and underwater life like plankton, krill, dolphins, and sperm whales. The poster unfolds into a giant underwater scene, seek and finds leading the way with a turn of the page. Great for science programs, and keep at least one copy in your Reference section while you put one in circ – it may get beaten up, despite the sturdy pages. The Panoramic series is a fun way to explore the world!
Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit! is all about the siblings

Rabbit! Rabbit! Rabbit!, by Loran Scobie, (Feb. 2021, Henry Holt & Co. Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250760746

Ages 3-6

Rabbit loves being an only child. There’s so much space, so many carrots, it’s all about Rabbit and for Rabbit… until Rabbit’s parents have some news. A new baby joins the family, and baby wants to be everywhere Rabbit is! As more.. and more… and MORE siblings join the family, Rabbit seeks the advice of Fox, who happily agrees to watch the siblings for while and give Rabbit some space. But wait! FOX has the baby siblings? This sweet, funny story about siblings has an adorable twist ending that readers will love, and moments that everyone with younger siblings will recognize: lack of space, broken possessions, and being followed everywhere, to name a few. Even the title calls to mind the many, many times a sibling can expect a younger sibling to call their name. Inks, watercolor, and pencils come together to create bright, fun illustrations with expressive characters and gentle, colorful nature backdrops. One- and two-sentence spreads make this a great choice for emerging readers, and bold, black text on bright white backgrounds make for easy reading and storytime use. Too much fun for young readers, and a good opportunity to get readers to talk about what makes little brothers and sisters fun.

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

Hit the Court with The Fifth Quarter

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

Ages 8-12

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

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

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

Deadman’s Castle and a family on the run

Deadman’s Castle, by Iain Lawrence, (March 2021, Margaret Ferguson Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780823446551

Ages 9-12

Twelve-year-old Igor and his family have been on the run for years. When he was five, his father saw a terrible crime; ever since, they’ve been leaving homes in the middle of the night, creating new identities never settling in one spot, as a man his dad refers to as The Lizard Man hunts them down. But when they settle in yet another town, Igor is tired of running. He wants to be a normal middle school student. He wants to go to school, have friends, go to sleepovers – and he’s more and more worried that The Lizard Man may be a construct of his father’s imagination. But what if it’s not? Deadman’s Castle is is a solid psychological mystery that will keep readers turning pages – I finished this in the course of a day rather than put it down – as they, like Igor, discover new secrets with each turn of the page. It’s intense at some points, taut at others, and a thoroughly enjoyable read.

This one has an easy booktalk: “You think your parents are overprotective? Igor can’t have a computer, video games, or even a cell phone because his father is convinced a bad guy is going to track him and his family down using them! And no, he isn’t allowed to come to the library to use them, either.” (Because I know that’s what at least one of my wisecrackers would come up with.)

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

It’s all in the perspective… So Big and So Small

So Big and So Small, by John Coy/Illustrated by Steph Lew, (Oct. 2020, Beaming Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781506460581

Ages 3-7

A young boy considers perspective: he’s so big next to a baby, a puppy, a kitten, or a bumblebee; he’s giant compared to a seashell or a speck of sand. But when he goes to the zoo, he’s so small compared to the animals, or next to a tree or waterfall. Compared to a mountain or the universe? He’s so tiny! But when he considers his place within his family, he’s the perfect size. A sweet concept story that celebrates a child’s place in the world and in his world, So Big and So Small has charming illustrations of characters with expressive, friendly faces, and sweetly present the concepts of big and small. The large-scale illustrations of mountains, waterfalls, and the night sky are beautiful and give us a real sense of our place in the world. There’s so much to think about, and so much to talk about with our Kiddos here.  A nice addition to concept collections.

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

Booktalk this Book: Dress Coded

Dress Coded, by Carrie Firestone, (July 2020, GP Putnam), $17.99, ISBN: 9781984816436

Ages 9-13

I’ve been killing myself with anticipation over this book since I received the early galley last year. I finally put everything else aside and finished this in a day, because it’s that good. Told in short chapters and including podcast transcripts, text messages, and letters, Dress Coded is a perfect snapshot of what it’s like being a young woman in middle school today. Molly Frost is fed up: fed up with her vape-addicted brother, who’s wreaked havoc on her family; fed up with feeling invisible at school, and fed up with the school’s dress code, which seems hardwired solely to embarrass and harass female students of a certain body type. It all blows up the day her friend Olivia is humiliated by the dean and principal for wearing a tank top at school and refusing to take her sweatshirt off her waist to put it back on – a reason that makes itself clear as the story progresses. Several of Molly’s friends have been “dress coded” for similar offenses, and the humiliation and frustration are far greater than the suspected offense. Molly starts a podcast, Dress Coded, where girls speak up about their dress coding experiences and the mental and emotional fallout from run-ins with staff. The podcast grows into a movement to remove the dress code, and Molly, at the center of it, finds the power within her to stand up to her brother and the school bully, and the ability to help other girls find their voice. A primer in middle school activism and a scathing indictment of how women’s bodies are weaponized and sexualized from a young age, Dress Coded is simply essential reading. Please, educators, put this on your summer reading lists!

Dress Coded is author Carrie Firestone’s middle grade debut. I can’t wait to see what else she’s going to give my middle graders. The book is a Booklist Editors’ Choice Selection, a Texas Lone Star Reading List Selection, and a Rise: Feminist Book Project Selection. It has starred reviews from Kirkus, School Library Journal, Booklist, and Publishers Weekly. Submit your own dress coding story at Carrie Firestone’s author webiste, and learn about her other books, workshops, and author inspiration, too.

Posted in Intermediate, Middle Grade, Non-fiction, Non-Fiction

Little Kid, Big City: a kids’ guide to New York!

Little Kid, Big City: New York, by Beth Beckman/Illustrated by Holly Maher, (Feb. 2021, Quirk Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781683692447

Ages 7-12

A travel book for kids that includes tips and tricks for navigating New York City, Little Kid, Big City: New York is set up like a choose-your-own-adventure book – just like New York! Most of the action is concentrated in Manhattan, but there are highlights in the outer boroughs, like Rockaway Beach and the Unisphere in my ‘hood, Queens; Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, Coney Island in Brooklyn, and so much more! There are great little inside secrets to New York, too: what makes our bagels taste so good? The water! The pizza? Foldable! Underground art galleries? Check the subways! Read the book straight through, or follow the prompts that give you a choice to wander all over the city. Colorful illustrations capture the buzz of New York by day, and the rhyming text lets little readers enjoy a story about New York City! The book is a spin-off of the Little Kid Big City website, which also has a wealth of information perfect for families traveling to New York, London, Amsterdam, and Washington, DC, and the Instagram account, which has gorgeous photos, guides, and reels.

Let the kids plan the next adventure when we can travel again – many of these sites are still closed at the moment – and you can’t go wrong. Until then, download a free Travel from Home Activity Kit. Back matter includes an “Adventure Index” that provides more in-depth detail about each of the sites visited in the book, and there’s a fold-out map of New York and the boroughs to hang up. Bundle this with Nadja Spiegelman and Sergio García Sánchez’s graphic novel, Lost in NYC, for a full New York experience.