Posted in Fiction, Middle Grade, Realistic Fiction

Astrid the Unstoppable gives #kidlit a new fiery redheaded heroine

Astrid the Unstoppable, by Maria Parr, (Nov. 2018, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9781536200171

Ages 7-11

“The Little Thunderbolt”, as she’s nicknamed, Astrid is a 9-year-old girl who lives in the town of Glimmerdal, Norway, with her farmer father and her marine scientist mother, who’s often away on research adventures. She spends most of her days with her best friend, Gunnvald, who also happens to be her 70-something year-old godfather; she also spends quite a bit of time aggravating the mean old Mr. Hagen, who runs a resort – ADULTS ONLY! – nearby, but Astrid can’t be bothered to be upset when he yells at her: she’s got too much living to do! She’s a fun, spunky, free spirit, until Gunnvald has a terrible fall that lands him in the hospital. Secrets are revealed that send Astrid into a tizzy, but not for long: she relies on her new friends to help her set things right.

Astrid the Unstoppable is like the books I read when I was a kid. Classics like Heidi (a book which also plays a part in Astrid), Pippi Longstocking, and Caddie Woodlawn, all seem to have inspired Maria Parr and her beloved Astrid. She’s smart, yet not afraid to be vulnerable; she’s got a wonderfully upbeat personality and view of the world, and she’s not afraid to speak her mind, whether it’s to another child, or an adult who’s behaving badly. She’s got great relationships with most of the adults in the book, and even the ones she doesn’t see eye-to-eye with can’t stay too mad at her. She’s got an infectious personality, in all the best ways.

Astrid the Unstoppable is kidlit done right, and Astrid herself will be a character kids will be reading about in school and on reading lists for years to come. Make sure to add this one to your to-buy lists, and talk up our classic female characters, too: don’t let anyone be left out! Perfect for your more sensitive readers. The book has been translated into 19 languages and adapted for the stage (so why not look into some reader’s theatre with your copies?)


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

Ruby Lee and Me looks at friendship and social change

ruby leeRuby Lee and Me, by Shannon Hitchcock (Jan. 2016, Scholastic), $16.99, ISBN: 9780545782302

Recommended for ages 8-12

In 1969, a segregated North Carolina town is facing integration, and not everyone is happy about it. Set against this backdrop is the story of 12 year-old Sarah Beth, who is plagued with guilt when her younger sister is hit by a car while under her watch. Sarah’s family moves to a house on her grandparents’ property to save money, which means a new school – one that’s about to undergo integration. On the plus side, that means that Sarah will be able to go to school with her friend, Ruby Lee, an African-American who will be a student at the integrated school. Enthusiastically, the girls decide that they will be best friends in public – something not very common in the area – just like the Freedom Riders; but the girls have a falling out, leaving Sarah feeling more alone than ever. She’s lost her best friend, she’s facing a new school alone, and she’s certain her sister’s accident is her fault.

A work of both historical and realistic fiction, Ruby Lee & Me is a good coming-of-age story set against a time of huge social change.While this is Sarah’s story, first and foremost, friendship and integration amidst the upheaval of segregation and prejudice is a strong subplot. An upsetting incident involving the school’s first African-American teacher is a powerful moment in the story.

The history of race relations speaks volumes in the relationship between Sarah’s and Ruby’s grandmothers: they “gossip like best friends” when they’re together on the farm, but merely nod politely to one another in town; Sarah’s grandmother says, “The creek don’t care what color feet wade in it, but the town pool surely does. It’s easier to be friends away from wagging tongues”. Sarah’s ambitious daydream of she and Ruby being public friends sends both grandmothers into a tizzy; they discourage the girls from inviting trouble into their lives. Ruby Lee is annoyed when she sees her grandmother “trying too hard” around whites; Sarah sees Ruby as trying to be “the boss of her” in their interactions, yet always seeks her out when she needs someone to talk through a problem with.

A note from the author on historical accuracy briefly explains her connection to events in the story and points out little bits of tweaking made for creative license.

Ruby Lee and Me received a starred review from Booklist. The author’s website offers discussion questions for educators.

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

Smile, by Raina Telgemeier – A Graphic Memoir of Tweenhood

smileSmile, by Raina Telgemeier. Scholastic (2010), $21.99, ISBN: 978-0-54513205-3

Recommended for ages 10+

Raina Telgemeier’s memoir, Smile, is a coming-of-age memoir that’s framed by the night sixth-grader Raina sustained an injury to her mouth that led to a series of surgeries and orthodontia. Throughout middle school and high school, Raina endures braces, surgeries, retainers, and even headgear. She becomes a target for her friends’ teasing, which leads to her pulling away from them and embracing her love of the artistic. When she finally realizes that her friends aren’t the people she wants to surround herself with, she stands her ground and moves on.

Smile is one of those books that everyone should read, kid or adult. It’s all about fair-weather friends, enduring what feels like the end of the world, and ultimately, finding your own voice. It’s empowering, whether you’re 12 or 92, because it’s something we need to be reminded of, from time to time – “it”, whatever it is, won’t last forever, and the people you surround yourself with may not be the best for you. Dig deep down into yourself and love yourself enough to get through it.

The cartoon art makes the story even more accessible,with friendly-looking, expressive characters and warm colors throughout. The endpapers resemble a yearbook -in fact, Ms. Telgemeier used her yearbook signatures for the book – with signatures and well-wishes from friends, setting the tone for the book.

Smile has received numerous accolades – deservedly so! – including winning the Eisner Award for Best Publication for a Teen Audience (2011), the Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award (2012), and the Maine Student Book Award (2012). Smile was a finalist for the Children’s Choice Book Award (2011) and has received designation as an ALA Children’s Notable Book (2011), an honor book from the Boston Globe-Horn Book Awards (2010), a Kirkus Best Book of 2010, and a New York Times Editors’ Choice (2010).

There are lesson plans on the Web that allow educators to bring Smile into the classroom. Scholastic offers one on their site, along with a template for students to create their own graphic novels; The Graphic Classroom offers some great classroom discussion tips using the book.

A companion book to Smile, called Sisters, which will be published in August 2014 and will examine the relationship between Raina and her sister, Amara, who briefly appears in Smile.