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 Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Sanctuary: A Plausible Dystopia from Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher

Sanctuary, by Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher, (Sept. 2020, GP Putnam & Sons), $17.99, ISBN: 9781984815712

Ages 14+

Set in a not-too-distant America where an unchecked President who advocates for hate is still in office, Sanctuary is an unsettling, often brutal, story of survival. In 2032, Americans are microchipped and tracked. Getting on the bus? You’re scanned. Going into school? You’re scanned. Some undocumented immigrants have underground chips that don’t always work: and when they malfunction, it’s bad news. Sixteen-year-old Vali and her mother are undocumented and living in Vermont. Vali’s parents crossed over into California when Vali was a toddler; her younger brother, Ernie, was born shortly after. Vali’s father was discovered, deported, and murdered, forcing Vali’s mother to flee, with her two young children, to Vermont. They’ve managed to create a life for themselves until a crackdown from the government’s Deportation Forces hits their town, sending them on the run once again. Vali’s mother’s chip malfunctions, and she’s taken away, forcing Vali and Ernie to head back toward California – a sanctuary state that’s been walled off from the rest of the United States – in the hope that their tía Luna is still alive and able to help them.

Sanctuary is a stressful, urgent, horrific book, because it’s a future that’s entirely plausible. The Wall exists in this future; people are empowered to openly hate and inform on one another, and Deportation Forces brutally enforce racist executive orders with relish. There are deportation camps in hidden areas, out of the public’s line of vision, where human beings are treated like animals, and drones hunt people down like prey. There are people all too willing to take advantage of desperation: coyotes, individuals paid to illegally transport others to California, steal and do worse. There are kind people, like the nun running an underground shelter for refugees, but they feel too few and far between. Vali is an incredible well of strength for her terrified younger brother. There are no wasted characters here: Paola Mendoza and Abby Sher create living, breathing characters that will stay with you long after you’ve closed the book and returned it to the shelf. With taut pacing and storytelling that will penetrate readers to the bone, Sanctuary is essential reading.

Paola Mendoza is an activist and co-founder of the Women’s March. Abby Sher is a YA author and You can read an excerpt thanks to Teen Vogue.

Sanctuary has starred reviews from Kirkus and School Library Journal.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Welcome to Planet Omar!

Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet, by Zanib Mian/Illustrated by Nasaya Mafaridik, (Feb. 2020, G.P. Putnam), $13.99, ISBN: 9780593109212

Ages 7-10

Meet Omar! He’s a young Muslim boy living in the UK, and has just moved to a new neighborhood and school so his mom could accept her dream job. He’s got an imaginary dragon for a friend and pet, he’s creative and imaginative, and… he finds himself the target of the school bully. Originally published in abroad in 2018 as The Muslims, Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet is hilarious, sweet, and brilliantly tackles Islamophobia, all from a kid’s point of view.

Written from Omar’s point of view and illustrated a la Wimpy Kid, Accidental Trouble Magnet introduces us to Omar’s family: his parents, his siblings, the bully who becomes enraged at the idea of Muslims, and the sweet little old lady next door who constantly talks to someone one the phone about what “The Muslims” are doing. Omar’s parents handle the next door neighbor with grace and aplomb, always extending the hand of friendship. Omar is informative about Muslim traditions – we learn about Eid and Ramadan; his excitement about attempting to take part in the fast (so he can be up in the middle of the night to eat), and about the hijab his mother wears (no, she doesn’t shower with it). Zanib Mian convincingly writes with Omar’s voice and introduces us to a friendly kid who wants to let you know about him – and wants to let you know that he can’t wait for his holiday gifts; he loves sweets, and he loves his culture and wants to share it with you, too. Planet Omar: Accidental Trouble Magnet is an upbeat, fun intermediate story that serves as a wonderful introduction to Muslim culture. It encourages empathy, compassion, and understanding. It promotes patience with others who make rash judgements, and encourages all of us to be the best versions of ourselves that we can be.

Have readers who love Saadia Faruqi’s Yasmin books and are ready to take on a longer chapter book? Introduce them to Omar! I’d love to see this on Summer Reading Lists this year, nudge nudge.

Accidental Trouble Magnet received the 2018 Little Rebels Award, was nominated for the 2019 Carnegie Medal, and longlisted for the 2019 UKLA Award. See more about the book on Muslim Children’s Books UK.