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 Fantasy, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Brenna Thummler’s Sheets and Delicates: Ghost friends are the best friends

Sheets, by Brenna Thummler, (Aug. 2018, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 9781941302675

Ages 9-13

Seventh grader Marjorie Glatt has a lot on her shoulders: still reeling from her mother’s untimely death, she’s also running the family laundromat while her father copes with his depression and grief. She’s helping care for her younger brother, and she’s trying to fend off the sleazy businessman who insists he is going to take over the laundromat and open up his “five star extravagant yoga retreat” in its place – but that Marjorie and her dad can work for him. Marjorie is just going through the motions, pushing her own grief down, when Wendell – the sheet-wearing ghost of an 11-year boy who’s trying to find his own place in ghost society – arrives at her shop and unintentionally wreaks havoc. The sheets are the only way ghosts have available in order to be visible: a pretty hefty metaphor for tweens and young teens trying to find their own way in the world. The book sensitively and masterfully handles big topics like grief, visibility, and identity. The villain is perfectly awful, the customers are believably demanding and abrasive, and add to Marjorie’s sense of being overwhelmed. Brenna Thummler’s artwork tells its own story, with interesting details in the backgrounds and a color palette that uses faded blues, grays, and whites to bring the characters to life. A must-buy for your graphic novel collections. TeachingBooks.net has some educator resources available.

Sheets has been selected by YALSA as a Great Graphic Novel for Teens (2019).

Delicates, by Brenna Thummler, (March 2021, Oni Press), $14.99, ISBN: 9781620107881

Ages 10-14

The sequel to Sheets introduces a new character, and delves even deeper into social themes like bullying, trauma, and teen suicide. Picking up shortly after Sheets left off, things are looking up for Marjorie Glatt. She and Wendell are still friends, she’s still providing a place for the ghosts to hang out and kick back, and she’s even in with the  in-crowd at school: the mean girls from the last book. Marjorie’s not in love with hanging out with Tessi and her crew – they keep her around as more of a project than a friend – but she’s all about the path of least resistance. When one of their teachers asks the group to keep an eye on his daughter, Eliza, who’ll be repeating eighth grade at the school, the schism between Marjorie and Tessi; Tessi sees Eliza’s quirkiness as a target for bullying, and Marjorie, not one for conflict, tries to appease both sides until she realizes that failing to act is just as much an act of bullying. The storytelling is incredibly introspective here: Eliza emerges as a particularly brilliant character as she deals with feelings of isolation, depression, and suicidal feelings. Eliza’s family is supportive and stands with her, finding her help. Brenna Thummler’s color palette is lighter, incorporating more rose-colored hues this time, speaking to the characters’ continuing journey toward happiness. A great follow-up to a superb story. I’d love to see more.

Delicates has a starred review from Foreword Reviews. Visit author/illustrator Brenna Thummler’s webpage for more information about her books and her artwork.

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

Dan Unmasked: Everyone has a story

Dan Unmasked, by Chris Negron, (June 2021, HarperCollins), $7.99, ISBN: 9780062943071

Ages 8-12

Nate and Dan are best friends. They share a love of baseball and a love of comic books, especially Captain Nexus by comics legend George Sanderson. They’re always talking, always together, until an accident at baseball practice leaves Nate in a coma. Dan feels crushing guilt that he caused the accident and desperately comes up with an idea that HAS to work: convinced that Nate is trapped, like Captain Nexus in his latest storyline, he’s going to create a comic that will show Nate the way out. He joins forces with Nate’s brother, Ollie, and Courtney, a friend from school to plot out a storyline that has to work. Right?

Dan Unmasked is as much a story of grief, loss, and recovery as it is about friendship, comics, and baseball. Chris Negron weaves all the parts of a middle schooler’s life together in his story, including parental relationships and relationships with school friends and teammates. He gives a reclusive comic book artist real life as a fully realized character with as rich a backstory as the main characters. Baseball fans will love the game narration; comics fans will love the comic book references he liberally sprinkles throughout. John David Anderson fans will easily jump into this story; it’s got that wonderful mix of the extraordinary and the everyday. Get this on your Summer Reading shelves.

The hardcover release (July 2020) of Dan Unmasked was an Independent Booksellers’ Debut Pick of the Season.  Author Chris Negron has a Dan Unmasked Curriculum Guide available for download at his author website.

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

Heels, Faces, Works and Life: Bump by Matt Wallace

Bump, by Matt Wallace, (Jan. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780063007987

Ages 8-12

MJ is a twelve-year-old wrestling fan who is dealing with loss in her home life and racism in her school life. She feels isolated, alone, with only her wrestling show for company until she notices a covered wrestling ring in her neighbor’s yard. Turns out, her neighbor is the owner of a wrestling school, and after some intense discussion with her mother and some successful nudging on MJ’s part, Mr. Arellano – Papí, to his wrestling students – agrees to take her on as a student. At the Victory Wrestling School, MJ finally feels like she’s part of something, but an investigator from the state Athletic Commission is doing his best to shut Mr. Arellano down. MJ is determined to get to the bottom of some shady business and save the school and her wrestling family.

I loved Bump, because it’s such a good mix of family stories – the family we have and the families we create – plus the fun and work of the wrestling business. MJ knows that the bruises are real; she loves the rich history of the luchadores, and she loves being part of this history. Wrestling fans will enjoy all the nuances and peek into the ground floor of the industry, and sports fans will enjoy the heart and guts that comes with dedication. Matt Wallace addresses the casual racism that exists in our schools, and all too briefly looks at the issues with racism within MJ’s friend group. The action is fast-paced, and there’s a wild moment that belongs in a wrestling storyline that brings the story to its conclusion. A good read that I’d hand off to my library kids. Add some luchador coloring masks to your book discussion activity and invite the kids to explain why they chose the designs they did; make the masks an extension of their personalities. There’s a good explanation of lucha libre and its place in Mexican culture at SpanishPlayground.net.  Not an #OwnVoices book, but a good read that kids will like.

Posted in picture books

Processing grief with The Boy and the Gorilla

The Boy and the Gorilla, by Jackie Azúa Kramer/Illustrated by Cindy Derby, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763698324

Ages 4-8

A boy’s mother has died. He imagines a gorilla talking to him, working with him through his loss and how to reach out to his father. The boy and the gorilla talk about what happens when we die and where we go; how to feel; how to go on. The boy finds his voice and tells his father that he misses Mom, and the two hold one another, moving on together. It’s hard to read this book with a dry eye. The storytelling is so very gentle, so careful with the reader, and the watercolors pack such beauty and emotion, creating an aching, incredible experience. Add The Boy and the Gorilla to your grief and loss collection, along with Some Days by María Wernicke. It’s an important collection to keep updated and know when to hand them to kids and caregivers.

The Boy and the Gorilla has starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly, Kirkus, and the Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books.

Posted in picture books

Blog Tour: Some Days

Some Days, by Marís Wernicke, Translated by Lawrence Schimel, (Nov. 2020, Amazon Crossing Kids), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5420-2251-4

A moving meditation on loss and the need for a safe place, Some Days is a conversation between mother and child. The girl tells her mother about a place in their yard where it’s not cold, where nothing bad can ever happen. As she tells her mother about this place, she reminisces about a man, presumably her father; the two play together and he holds her on his shoulders. Her mother reassures her that the place is always there.
The acrylic illustrations are stunning here. Told in shades of gray, we feel the heaviness, the grief, the two share as they sit at the table. A scarlet sheet represents the daughter’s safe place; her mother’s dress and father’s coat are the same shade of scarlet, showing that they are her safe place. When her mother speaks of a safe place, her color is a murkier green and gold; an emerging grief. The quiet, spare text communicates a feeling of mourning and the promise of a way out, together.
Just a stunning meditation on loss; it doesn’t offer any answers, but understands. Some Days has a starred review from Kirkus.

María Wernicke is an award-winning Argentinian author and illustrator of children’s books. She is a 2020 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award nominee. Her illustrations have been part of multiple international exhibits, including at the Bratislava Biennial exhibition and the Bologna Children’s Book Fair, among others. Learn more about the author at www.maria wernicke.blogspot.com.

On Instagram: @wernicke_maria

Lawrence Schimel is a bilingual author and translator, with more than one hundred books to his credit. His children’s books have won a Crystal Kite Award from the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, and have been selected for lists of outstanding titles by the International Board on Books for Young People. His translated books include Wanda Gàg’s Millions of Cats and George Takei’s graphic novel They Called Us Enemy, among many others. He lives in Madrid, Spain.

★“A gentle model for living while missing a loved one.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“This brief, wistful exchange between a mother and her child delivers its emotion between the lines, and Schimel’s translation handles the understatement deftly…Wernicke shows the two twirled up in another set of sheets, looking for the passageway together, in this portrait of a parent who hears and honors her child’s words.” —Publishers Weekly

One lucky winner will receive a copy of Some Days courtesy of Amazon Crossing Kids (U.S. and Canada addresses). Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway!

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Sing Like No One’s Listening brings the healing

Sing Like No One’s Listening, by Vanessa Jones, (Sept. 2020, Peachtree Publishing), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-194-2

Ages 12-18

Nettie Delaney is grieving the loss of her mother, a superstar in the performing arts world, when she’s accepted to Duke’s , the prestigious London performing arts school that her mother also attended. The problem? Nettie can’t get in touch with her voice since her mother’s death; she hasn’t been able to sing at all since her mother died. She makes it into the school, but the looming figure of director Miss Duke makes things more stressful. Add to that the fact that a ballet teacher has it in for her, and she’s the target of two mean girls who want to sabotage her at every turn, and Nettie seems to have the odds stacked against her. She’ll need her new friends to lean on as she works to discover her voice and get through her first year at Duke’s.

A story of loss and renewal, Sing Like No One’s Listening is also a romance. Nettie and second year student, Fletch, have a chemistry neither can deny, but it’s a slow burn all the way through the book as the two deal with miscommunication and outside interference. There’s a little mystery in here, too, as Nettie rediscovers her voice only when she’s alone, and a mysterious piano player in the next room provides a low-stress outlet for her voice.

Sing Like No One’s Listening, originally published in the UK, is perfect for fans of the performing arts and musical theater. Readers will feel like they’ve got a chance to peek in on a group of talented college students as they dance, shmooze, and romance their way through a year at school. Give this to your romance readers, and consider some of these titles, courtesy of Simon Teen, that are perfect for music lovers, too.

Find an excerpt, author Q&A, and discussion guide at Peachtree Publisher’s website.

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

A girl copes with emotions in Believe

Believe, by Julie Mathison, (Aug. 2020, Starr Creek Press), $8.99, ISBN: 978-1-7350037-2-6

Ages 8-12

It’s 1980, and 11-year-old Melanie is a girl who knows she’s different. She doesn’t fit in; she occupies herself with games like Jewelry Factory, where she sorts through broken glass to find jewels. At Buckminster Experimental School, where Melanie is a fifth grader, the only thing she can’t seem to do on her own is make friends, so when she meets Sabrina – who reminds her of her favorite Charlie’s Angels character of the same name – she’s thrilled. Sabrina encourages Melanie to stand up against Karen, the school bully, and develop her self-confidence. She even lands the lead in the school play, Peter Pan! But Melanie has a painful secret that she’s keeping: from her dad, from her grandmother, even from herself.

Believe is a look at love, loss, and how we cope. Julie Mathison creates a main character coping with a terrible void – her missing mother – and can’t relate to most of the kids her age, adding to her stress. Julie Mathison skillfully places clues throughout the narrative that readers can use to put together the story within the story. With sensitive characters and a Peter Pan subplot that both ties into the bullying storyline and the overall story, Believe is a good story to give readers who like to really dig into a story.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

#BooksfromQuarantine: Into the Tall, Tall Grass

Into the Tall, Tall Grass, by Loriel Ryon, (Apr. 2020, McElderry Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534449671

Ages 10-14

This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Yolanda Rodriguez-O’Connell and her twin sister, Sonja, are part of a magical family. Every generation is bestowed with a gift of some sort: in Sonja’s case, she can control bees. Butterflies flock to her grandmother, Wela. Their family has been the talk of the town for generations, calling the family brujas: witches. Since her grandfather’s death a year ago, Yolanda has distanced herself from her best friend, Ghita, and her sister; Ghita and Sonja have found solace together, making Yolanda feel like even more of an outsider. The girls live with their ailing Wela while their father is on his last deployment, but she has fallen into a mysterious sleep, and the girls are facing placement in foster homes. Wela awakens one night and tells Yolanda that she must take her to the last pecan tree on the family land to put things right and Yolanda, convinced this will save Wela, agrees. Yolanda begins a journey filled with revelations along with Wela, her dog, Sonja, Ghita, and Ghita’s brother, Hasik.

Wow. There’s gorgeous magical realism throughout this compulsively readable novel. There’s a family mystery wrapped up in generations of secrets and anguish and a fascinating subplot about relationships: the relationships between sisters, relationships between people and the land, and burgeoning relationships. Sonja and Ghita explore a relationship, and Yolanda navigates her own conflicted feelings for Hasik, who has a crush on her. The descriptions of the land are so rich, readers will feel the grass brushing their legs, the pecans in their hands, and the feel of butterflies in their hair. The meditation on grief and loss, and preparation for loss, is powerful. The tie between the magic thread that runs in the Rodriguez family and the world around them is incredibly described, written almost poetically. I loved everything about this book.

Into the Tall, Tall Grass has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in picture books

Helping kids process grief

We are seeing days like no other these days. It’s got to be confusing, scary, and altogether awful for our kids, who may be experiencing loss and who see news about loss and grief all over the news. Kindergarten teacher and author Joanna Rowland has created a quietly soothing picture book and companion workbook that may provide some comfort to you and the little ones during this time.

The Memory Box: A Book About Grief, by Joanna Rowland/Illustrated by Thea Baker, (Sept. 2017, Beaming Books), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-5064-2672-3

Ages 3-8

Written as a letter from a child to someone in the child’s life who has passed, The Memory Book is a child’s-eye view of grief and loss. Opening with the analogy of losing a balloon – “I can always get another balloon. / But I can never have another you. / I miss you.” – the book goes through questions and wishes, and the understanding that some days are okay, and some days are hard, that come to kids when experiencing a loss. The narrator then creates a box of memories, and a journal, so that she will never forget her loved one.  A grief consultant writes an end note about helping children process grief, and provides some help in answering some tough questions kids ask us. Mixed media illustrations provide texture and warmth, and the colors are calming and soft, and the overall look and feel of the book feels like we have opened the child’s own Memory Box and Memory Book.

The Memory Box is a Midwest Book Award Finalist, a Mom’s Choice Award winner, and a Moonbeam Children’s Book Award winner.

 

The Memory Book, by Joanna Rowland/Illustrated by Thea Baker, (Jan. 2020, Beaming Books), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5064-5781-9

A companion to The Memory Box, The Memory Book is a journal for children and families going through their grief. Beginning with a note on how to approach journaling, the book continues with writing prompts similar to the narrator’s dialogue in The Memory Box, with space for photos, memories, and artwork. Families are encouraged to talk about their memories and feelings, with journaling space available to capture these moments. Not meant to be filled up at once, The Memory Book allows an entire family to capture their feelings, emotions, and memories in one place over the course of time, as they come up.  Color illustrations from The Memory Box and newer illustrations throughout help ease readers and writers into prompts and discussion, and the book is set up, journal-style, with plenty of writing and drawing space.

Sensitive and soothing, The Memory Box and The Memory Book are good choices to have on hand for kids and families dealing with grief.