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

I start #MGMarch with Fly Back Agnes

Fly Back Agnes, by Elizabeth Atkinson, (March 2020, Carolrhoda), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5415-7820-3

Ages 10-13

It’s Middle Grade March (#MGMarch on social media), and I’m working my way through some incredible Middle Grade in my pile. Let’s start with Elizabeth Atkinson’s Fly Back, Agnes; a book I did not want to put down.

Agnes is a 12-year-old living in Vermont with her mother, who Agnes sees as a “bulldozer” that just rolls over everything in her path. Agnes is frustrated by her mother’s pushiness and opinions about Agnes’s clothes and imminent “becoming a woman”; she really isn’t crazy about her mother’s mumbling artist boyfriend, Richard, and Richard’s weird and obnoxious kid, George. She misses her father, who lives in a nearby town, where he’s a cellist and teaches at a university. She misses her sister, Viva, who’s pulled away from their family entirely. She feels betrayed by her best friend, Megan, who’s become enchanted with the new mean girl, Lux. So when her mother announces that they’re moving to Kansas for the summer, for a project Richard’s been hired to do – despite Agnes having made plans to work at an animals shelter – she has had it. It all starts with a white lie, so she can spend the summer with her dad, who’s housesitting for a friend. She’s thrilled to have the summer with her father, but he’s finishing up his dissertation, so he doesn’t have a lot of time to spend with her, leaving Agnes to wander the town and decide to take on a persona that isn’t Agnes at all. She becomes Chloe, an actress-dancer 14-year-old who has the life Agnes desperately wants. Even as she makes friends in town – a young woman named Stella, Stella’s grandmother, Birdie, and a cute 15-year-old named Fin – the lies get bigger and deeper. Agnes wants to tell them the truth, especially as each reveals their own secrets to her, but she just can’t seem to find a way out.

Two major themes in Fly Back, Agnes are secrets and identities. Agnes is struggling with her identity because she’s on the cusp of “womanhood” – getting her period – something that, for her, is a sign that her childhood is over. She sees her visit to her father as a chance to escape the life she’s in, and tries a new identity on for size while she’s away. Being the main character, she’s the most fleshed out: biracial, with a part-Korean father and American mother, she has her mother’s freckles and curly red hair and her father’s skin tone. Her friends are ready to take on the tween/teen mantle, consumed with their smartphones and appearances, and it feels like a betrayal to Agnes, especially when she overhears mean girl Lux talking with them behind Agnes’s back at a sleepover. Stella and Fin have their own secrets, but they haven’t created a new persona: their identities are wrapped up in their secrets, and their trust in Agnes makes her feel guilty. Agnes’s parents are less fleshed out but have enough background to give us a pretty good picture of them. I wanted to learn more about Viva, but she and Megan were both there to give Agnes more depth, and ultimately, that was fine with me.

Fly Back, Agnes, has great pacing, good characters, and is a story I can’t wait to booktalk to my middle graders. It’s relatable, with (mostly) likable characters, and an interesting mini-plot with rehabilitating wild birds. It’s a good add to your realistic fiction collections.

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

March graphic novels look at the power of relationships

The Breakaways, by Cathy G. Johnson, (March 2018, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626723573

Ages 8-12

This Bad News Bears of Soccer story stars Faith, a child of color who joins her school team at the urging of Amanda, one of the school’s popular girls. Thinking it’s a great way to make new friends, Faith signs up, only to discover that there are different soccer teams, and she’s been put on the Bloodhounds, which is made of up the lousiest players in the school. They may be horrible at soccer, but the group gradually comes together to form a tight friendship unit, and that’s the heart of the story.

There’s a fantastic diversity among the group. There are queer characters, including one who’s transitioning, and characters of color. The storyline is moved forward by each character’s quest for identity and acceptance within their families and the group, making for some deeply heartfelt moments. It’s a book about friendship, self-awareness, and acceptance, set in a middle school – often a battleground for kids who want to stand out without being “different”.

This one’s a must-add to your shelves. Talk this one up to your Lumberjanes fans.

The Mary Sue has a great write-up and preview of The Breakaways, and you can visit author/illustrator Cathy G. Johnson’s website for more info.

Kiss Number 8, by Colleen AF Venable/Illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596437098

Ages 12+

Mads is a Catholic school teen who whose dad is her best friend. They go to minor league baseball games together, watch TV shows together, and generally just hang out together. It rocks her world when she discovers that her dad is hiding a secret, and it couldn’t have come at a harder time: Mads is also discovering that she may be attracted to her friend, Cat.

Kiss Number 8 looks at a sexual awakening within a close Catholic family. Mads tries out different kisses with different guys, trying to feel something, because her wilder friend, Cat – the archetypal Catholic school bad girl – encourages it, and it’s because what Mads feels like she’s supposed to do. While she torments herself over what she thinks her father’s hiding, she and Cat fall out, and the rumor mill goes wild, leading Mads to admit to her feelings and attractions to herself, and to Cat. Once Mads accepts herself, she has to deal with her father’s secret, his reaction to her emerging identity, and his overall mindset; luckily, she has support from a place she never dreamed of.

I really enjoyed Kiss Number 8. The characters are real, and Mads’ struggle with her own identity and sexuality works seamlessly with the family secret, revealed in all of its emotional pain. Mads has to come to realizations about herself, her relationships, and her own father, in order to move forward, but she’s a smart heroine that navigates these challenges to come out on top. Kiss Number is an exploration of teen sexuality, families, and relationships. A necessary book for your collections.

Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw‘s websites both offer some sneak peeks at Kiss Number 8 and their additional work.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Doesn’t matter what you think you see, Lulu is a Rhinoceros.

Lulu is a Rhinoceros, by Jason Flom & Allison Flom/Illustrated by Sophie Corrigan, (June 2018, Wicked Cow Studios), $16.99, ISBN: 9780692070987

Ages 4-7

Lulu may look like an bulldog to you and me, but when she looks in the mirror, she sees a rhinoceros. In her heart, her fluffy, soft fur is really thick skin, and her nubby little tail is actually whiplike. The only thing she needs is a horn: then everyone will know she’s really a rhino! But as she searches for her horn, others laugh at her and cruelly mock her; her Cinderella-like search for the perfect horn takes a few sweet, giggle-worthy turns, especially at the ice cream cart. When Lulu wanders into a rhino enclosure at a zoo, she meets a friend who uses common sense to see her for who she is, and they come together to form a mutually beneficial, wonderful, friendship.

This sweet story is perfect for everyone: in addition to addressing gender identity, Lulu speaks to readers who don’t feel like they quite fit in; readers who don’t want to go with the crowd. The message is strong: be true to yourself. It also extols the virtue of finding – or being – that one friend who can see through the exterior to who you are inside. The softly drawn artwork has muted colors, bringing a sense of calm to the story and allows readers to focus on Lulu’s internal dialogue. The story addresses social issues like introspection, friendship, social issues, tolerance, and yes, gender identity, and I love it. A portion of all the proceeds from sales of Lulu is a Rhinoceros are being donated to the African Wildlife Foundation to help protect Africa’s endangered wildlife and their habitat, so you’re doing two good deeds by buying the book! There’s an interview with authors Jason and Allison Flom (with real-life Lulu!) on the African Wildlife Foundation’s webpage. Pair this one with Bow-Wow Meow, by Blanca Lacasa.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Listen Up! This is how you learn about gender pronouns!

A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, by Archie Bongiovanni & Tristan Jimerson/Lettered by CRANK!, Designed by Kate Z. Stone, Edited by Ari Yarwood, (June 2018, Oni Press), $7.99, ISBN: 978-1-62010-499-6

Recommended for ages 13+

At the Urban Librarians Conference earlier this year, there were signs asking us to write our preferred pronouns on our name tags. I started thinking about gender, and how I take it for granted that people know what to call me based on how I look – and how I choose to gender people based on how they appear to me, and how easy it can be to misgender someone. It was an easy, great way to ask conference attendees to make sure everyone had a welcoming experience at the conference right off the bat.

Next, I was at BookExpo last week, and had a great conversation with a person at the Oni Press booth. I’m dipping into buying books for college-age patrons in our community, trying to get them back into our library, and saw some great books that would fit perfectly into that interest group. When the Oni editor handed me this little guide, I knew this was something special.

Archie is a snarky, genderqueer artist who’s sick and tired of being misgendered. Tristan is Archie’s cis male friend who’s trying to figure out the easiest way to introduce his diverse workplace to the wonderful world of gender neutral pronouns. Together, the two provide a smart, fun, and empathetic way to explain what pronouns are, how to use them, and most importantly, why they matter. Ever have someone say, “Excuse me, sir?” when you’re not a sir? Doesn’t feel great, does it? How about when someone pronounces your name wrong? I’ve been called Rosemarie more times than I can count in this life, and it irritates the living daylights out of me. Why? Because it’s not my name. And that’s how it feels to be misgendered: to feel ignored, like a mistake, like a joke. That’s the most valuable information readers will get from A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns: it’s a way of being considerate of others, fostering empathy and understanding and being a good ally.

Whoops! You slipped up and misgendered someone? The guide has you covered, with scripts in place to help you apologize without putting more of your foot in your mouth. Are you friends with someone – or even worse, have a family member – who refuses to get with the program, and thinks it’s hilarious when they misgender you? There are gentle guidelines for breaking up with people. Not sure how to come out as non-binary? They’ve got you covered here, too. There are reference charts for using pronouns in professional settings, everyday life, using alternative pronouns, and extra resources.

This is a small guide that reads up quick and to the point, and, at only $7.99, there’s no reason not to have multiple copies in libraries, schools, and workplaces everywhere. Get several copies of this for your middle school and YA sections, your adult sections, your workplaces. It’s a good way to show everyone you come into contact with that you care, that you’re committed to learning, that everyone is visible.  A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns is available on 6/13.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Non-Fiction, Non-fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Last Minute Shopping? No worries, find a bookstore!

I saw a piece on the news today that said today – December 23rd – is the second biggest holiday shopping day of the year.

https://giphy.com/embed/3oEjI1erPMTMBFmNHi

via GIPHY

If you still have kids and teens on your shopping list, I humbly offer a few more suggestions to make the season bright.

Brooding YA Hero: Becoming a Main Character (Almost) as Awesome as Me, by Carrie Ann DiRisio and Broody McHottiepants/Illustrated by Linnea Gear,
(Oct. 2017, Sky Pony Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781510726666

Recommended for readers 13-17

You know him. You may have loved him. He’s the EveryBroody – that dark, brooding bad boy main character that shows up in darned near every YA novel. He’s got a deep, dark history; he has trust issues; he may be an intergalactic prince, a scoundrel smuggler, or… dare I say? a sparkly vampire. Here, we get the scoop – straight from the Broody’s mouth – on what it’s like to be a Brooding YA Hero. It’s a writing guide with a wink and a nudge to YA tropes, with some straight talk – in the form of nemesis Mean Girl Blondi DeMeani – about smashing the patriarchy and recognizing the value of diverse characters. Give this to your fanfic writer, your feminists, and anyone who loved Jennifer Mathieu’s Moxie. And if you’re not already following the @broodingYAhero account on Twitter, you are doing yourself a disservice.

 

Hey, Baby! A Collection of Pictures, Poems, and Stories from Nature’s Nursery, by Stephanie Drimmer,
(Nov. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1426329319

Recommended for ages 4-12 and beyond

It’s an entire book of baby animal pictures. The cutest, funniest, littlest baby animals. This is a win-win for everyone! Added to the pictures are the sweetest companion folktales, stories, and poems, to make this a great gift for new moms and moms-to-be, kids who love their baby animals, and middle-aged librarians who follow accounts like @emergencykittens and @fluffsociety on Twitter. Add a copy of NatGeo’s Animal Ark, for more beautiful photos and poetry by Newbery award winner Kwame Alexander.

 

A World of Cookies for Santa, by M.E. Furman/Illustrated by Susan Gal,
(Oct. 2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt),$16.99, ISBN: 9780544226203

Recommended for readers 7-10

Take a tasty sleigh ride around the world and find out how children across the globe celebrate Christmas, from the different names Santa goes by (Papai Noel, Father Christmas, Christmas Baba, to name a few) to the tasty treats left out for Santa and his reindeer to enjoy on their journey. Try your hand at a multicultural Christmas with nine recipes for holiday cookies, included at the end! Pair with a copy of Clement Moore’s classic The Night Before Christmas and add a few cookies.

 

Top Elf, by Caleb Zane Huett, (Sept. 2017, Scholastic Press),
$14.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-05212-1

Recommended for readers 9-12

Santa’s ready to pass on the Big Red Suit. The call to competition goes out across the North Pole, and Ollie the Elf decides to go for it. Thing is, he’s up against Santa’s kids, a bullying elf named Buzz, Ramp, who swears he’s a kid, but looks and smells suspiciously grown-up, and even his best friend, Celia. How’s Ollie going to prove he’s the Top Elf for the job? This middle grade story is pure Christmas fun and adventure with a touch of Christmas magic. Stick this in a stocking for readers who love a good giggle, and add a couple of candy canes and some hot cocoa mix – maybe with a Minecraft or Lego mug. 

 

Ultimate Dinopedia, Second Edition, by “Dino” Don Lessem/Illustrated by Franco Tempesta,
(Oct. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $24.99, ISBN: 978-1426329050

Recommended for readers 8-13

It’s the ULTIMATE dinosaur encyclopedia! This updated edition is one of the most comprehensive dinosaur references going, with profiles on favorite dinos like the T-Rex and Velociratpr, to new finds like the Anzu, Kosmoceratops, and Yi. There are maps, comparison renderings to show kids how they stack up against different dinos, and descriptions of dino diets, geographic areas, and eras. There are over 600 dinosaurs in this volume, with profiles for 10 newly discovered dinos, and a comprehensive dino dictionary. Full-color illustrations from dinosaur artist Franco Tempesta come right off the page – look at that T-Rex on the cover! – and “Dino” Don Lessem – a world-renowned dinosaur presenter who also happened to be the dinosaur adviser for the first Jurassic Park movie – writes in a language that respects, but never speaks down, to readers. Kids love dinos. They’ll love this book. Tuck a tube of dino toys in the stocking and call it a holiday.

 

The Witch Boy, by Molly Ostertag, (Oct. 2017, Scholastic Graphix),
$12.99, ISBN: 978-1-338-08951-6

Recommended for readers 8-13

Aster is a 13-year-old, raised in a society of of supernatural beings. The girls are raised to be witches, the boys, to be shapeshifters. That’s the way it is, and anyone who falls outside those lines faces exile. Aster waits for his ability to shift to kick in, but is fascinated by magic, despite the disciplinary action and ridicule he faces. Aster befriends a non-magic neighbor named Charlotte, who goes by Charlie, who has her own frustrations with gender lines at her school; neither can figure out what the big deal is, saying, “You should just be allowed to do it!” Charlie discovers Aster’s magic abilities, and tries encouraging him to continue practicing magic; Aster will need that support when a mysterious force threatens his community; he may be the only one able to save them. A brilliant story about smashing gender expectations, The Witch Boy is a brilliant, compelling story about finding one’s place and speaks volumes to every kid out there who feels, at some point, like she or he doesn’t fit in. Molly Ostertag is the writer/artist on Shattered Warrior and the webcomic Strong Female Protagonist. The Witch Boy has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal, and Fox Animation has feature film rights. Bundle this one up with Victoria Jamieson’s All’s Faire in Middle School.

 

Bet You Didn’t Know!, by National Geographic Kids, (Aug. 2017, National Geographic Kids),
$19.99, ISBN: 978-1426328374

Recommended for readers 8-13

Kids love fact books; when they’re accompanied by amazing photos and include facts like, “A storm on Neptune was a wide as THE ENTIRE EARTH”, “Chewing gum can make your heart beat faster”, or “The Bahamas once had an undersea post office”, this becomes GOLD. Pair this one with NatGeo’s Weird But True Christmas, and you’re set.

 

The World of the Bible: Biblical Stories and the Archaeology Behind Them, by Jill Rubalcaba,
(Nov. 2017, National Geographic Kids), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1426328817

Recommended for readers 9-13

More than a book of Bible stories, The World of the Bible is a great reference for budding history buffs and archaeologists, going deeper into the text to study the time periods and geographic locations where these stories took place, to learn more about human history. Stories like Moses and the Ten Commandments and the Garden of Eden get a closer look, accompanied by classic paintings, photos, and illustrations of the lands where the events in the Bible took shape. Give to your budding young Indiana Jones or Lara Croft.

 

1,000 Facts About the White House, by Sarah Wassner Flynn, (Sept. 2017, National Geographic Kids),
$14.99, ISBN: 978-1-4263-2873-2

Recommended for readers 8-13

Wild and crazy facts about the most famous house in America: The White House. Learn about White House ghosts, events like the Easter Egg Roll, and presidential pets. Check out photos of the interiors and exteriors of the White House and grounds, and view some of the history-making moments that took place there. Learn about the different people who live and work there, those who keep it safe, and those who built it. There are groups of fun lists, like 25 Rooms That Rock, and there are loads of cutouts and info bits throughout. It’s a fun reference on American History for history fans. Pair with a copy of Weird But True! US Presidents and you’re set.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Tween Reads

Fantastic Fairy Tale: The Prince and The Dressmaker

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang, (Feb. 2018, First Second), $16.99, ISBN: 9781626723634

Recommended for readers 10+

In a Parisian town, during what looks like a Renaissance period, Frances is a brilliant dressmaker who slaves away in drudgery until she’s hired to work for the crown prince, Sebastian. It’s only when Frances arrives at the palace does she realize that Sebastian has a secret: he loves to wear extravagant, lavish dresses and go out on the town! Together, he and Frances craft a persona, Lady Crystallia, and hit the streets of Paris together; Lady Crystallia makes a splash on the Paris fashion scene, and Frances finds her talents in demand. But to go public with her talents puts Sebastian’s secret at risk.

This is a great modern fairy tale. It challenges gender identity, it’s got great characters, the art is soft realistic with a touch of the fantastic, and a touch of sweet romance that will make you just sigh, “Aww!” Frances is a lovable character who I felt for, and Sebastian put my emotions through the ringer as he went through his own stress. Each chapter is set off with a dress pattern, keeping readers in the overall story. Give this one to your readers who loved Princess Princess Ever After, your Lumberjanes fans, and anyone who appreciates a good, modern fairy tale.

The Prince and the Dressmaker won’t be out until February, but you can pre-order now (and check out more amazing art).

 

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Science Fiction, Steampunk, Tween Reads

Newsprints blends steampunk with Newsies

newsprintsNewsprints, by Ru Xu, (Jan. 2017, Scholastic Graphix), $12.99, ISBN: 978-0-545-80312-2

Recommended for ages 8-12

In an alternate universe, a young orphan named Blue is a girl, disguised as a newboy. With seemingly constant war going on, girls are expected to help the struggling economy by baking cookies, but Blue has no interest in that. She loves She lives with her guardians, the father figure of whom happens to be the town Mayor, and she loves working as a newsie for The Bugle, the one newspaper that tells the truth in an environment of “fake news” (flashing light for extra relevancy alert, folks). It’s not always easy to keep her secret, but Blue lives in fear of being found out and losing everything she loves: her family, her job, her lifestyle. When she meets a strange kid named Crow, she brings him into the fold; Crow has secrets of his own, which Blue can respect. When government officials appear on the scene, in search of missing military technology, there are more questions than answers, and Blue’s determined to stick by her friend, no matter what his secrets may be.

Inspired by manga, Newsprints tells a relevant story on so many levels: we have truth in the media, gender identity, and the power of friendship. Blue is a girl who doesn’t wants to do what she wants to do, not what society is telling her that her gender should be doing. She enjoys the freedom afforded to newsies, and embraces the dangers that come with a life on the streets. She gets the Crow has secrets he wants to keep, motivated only by a desire to help a kindred spirit survive and be safe.

My biggest issue with Newsprint was what I saw as disjointed storytelling, but that is entirely my issue. I’m not a regular manga reader, and Newsprints seems to follow manga-type storytelling, which isn’t always linear. The kids in my library love this book – my two copies have been out since I put them out on the shelves – and the emerging themes in the story make this a strong selection for booktalking.

Scholastic has a 34-page excerpt available for free, if you want to take a look and decide whether Newsprints is for you. Ru Xu has a Tumblr with an author calendar and links to her webcomic, Saint for Rent, which updates three times weekly.

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

Alex Gino’s George is wonderful, required reading for all!

georgeGeorge, by Alex Gino (Aug. 2015, Scholastic), $16.99, ISBN: 9780545812542

Recommended for ages 8-14

George looks like a boy. Her mom thinks she’s a boy; the kids and teachers at school see a boy, even if they bully her and call her a girl. Even her best friend, Kelly, thinks George is a boy. The thing is, middle schooler George is a girl, really. She knows it. It’s a painful secret that she has to keep.

When people look at George, they think they see a boy. But she knows she’s not a boy. She knows she’s a girl.

When her teacher announces that the class play will be Charlotte’s Web, George sees her chance to let a little of the real her peek through. She wants to be Charlotte. She wants to be Charlotte so badly. Will her teacher, her classmates, or her mom understand?

At last, a middle grade book with an LGBTQ character – and a positive, upbeat one, at that! George is a fantastic book. Every page is a delight. George is a sweet, introspective character who is self-aware at a young age and owns it. She keeps her real self a secret, but is always waiting for the chance to come out, and the class play provides that moment. She’s determined to be Charlotte, knowing that everyone will understand once they see her.

Kelly wins prizes for the best friend ever. She accepts and embraces George for who she is – you’ll tear up very happily as you follow their relationship’s progression to the end of the book.

Bullies aside – because bullies are inevitable – every character in this book offers a positive, realistic support system for George, a transgender tween at the beginning of her journey. Realistic, because we see that some have some difficulty, even discomfort, understanding George’s feelings and reality, but have enough love to work through it with her and come to a path they can all walk together.

I love this book. I want to buy copies for my home, my libraries, and to hand out to kids in every middle school. I’m thrilled that it exists. Not only do I think that this is this one of the most important books you’ll read this year, it’s one of the most captivating.

Author Alex Gino is a trans activist with a website that offers resources for youth that every parent and educator should bookmark. You’ll also find an author schedule and further information.