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

Tales from the TBR: The Kids Under the Stairs

More reporting as I continue scaling Mount TBR. Two years ago, I read BenBee and the Teacher Griefer; the first in a new series from KA Holt. The Minecraft-looking cover art and storyline drew me in – I’m a kids’ librarian and a mom, Minecraft and Roblox is allllll around me – and seriously, a KA Holt book is an exciting time. I loved BenBee, and finally made time to read the next two books in the series. Folx, I am a fan.

Ben Y and The Ghost in the Machine: The Kids Under the Stairs, by KA Holt, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452183213

Ages 10-14

The second Kids Under the Stairs book puts Ben Y on center stage: Ben Y, Benita, whose older brother, Benito, helped create Sandbox and communicated with her via Sandbox chat. and whose recent sudden death has her reeling. She still logs into chat to talk to him, but one night, someone responds. Who knows about Benito’s and Ben Y’s secret chat? Grief and recovery are major plot drivers in Ben Y and the Ghost in the Machine, and equally strong subplots about gender identity, dress coding, and journalism drive this brilliant story. Ben Y narrates most of the story, with appearances from the other Kids Under the Stairs: BenBee, Jordan, Javier, and Ms. J, the lovable teacher-turned-librarian who runs the “Newspaper Typing Club”, the new name for the Sandbox club. The introduction of a new character, Ace, keeps the narrative even more interesting and adds a drop of conflict. The story narrative pairs with Sandbox interactions to keep readers engaged. Ben Y’s writing is in verse, with other character interactions emphasized with italics and written in straight prose. Chat room interactions are presented as block text interactions and set off with black-framed pages. The Kids Under the Stairs is an excellent series that examines issues facing tweens and young teens and features brilliant portrayals of neurodiverse people. Download a free teacher guide to the book at Chronicle’s book detail page.

Ben Y and The Ghost in the Machine has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

 

Jordan J and the Truth About Jordan J: The Kids Under the Stairs, by KA Holt, (Sept. 2021, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452183213

Ages 10-14

It’s Jordan’s turn, and I am psyched! Jordan’s energy and honest enthusiasm made this my favorite book in the Kids Under the Stairs series so far. Jordan loves a competitive dance show, Fierce Across America; as such, he obsessively talks about it and even writes a column about it in the school newspaper – it doesn’t go well, because Jordan is a little too honest in his opinions about the school’s dance team and where they stand in reference to Fierce Across America hosts and dancers. Things change when Fierce Across America tryouts come to the Kids’ town in Florida, and Casey Price – one of Jordan’s schoolmates – asks him to choreograph a winning routine to advance her through the competition. Subplots on Jordan and Javier connecting through an art class and family financial stress meet many readers where they’re at, addressing issues that they can understand and work through. Jordan’s voice is exuberant and sweet, hesitant and apologetic, as he navigates situations; storytelling takes place in Sandbox chat rooms, through notes drawn on artwork from the “old lady art class” Jordan and Javier take together, school newspapers, Jordan’s notes to his therapist, and Jordan’s own storytelling. Boo-yah!

Download a free teacher guide at Chronicle’s book detail page.

 

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

Books from Quarantine: BenBee and the Teacher Griefer

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer (The Kids Under the Stairs #1), by KA Holt, (Sept. 2020, Chronicle Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781452182513

Ages 10-14

KA Holt is just amazing. Her approach to middle grade novels is creative and exciting, keeping readers engaged with verse, throwing scribbled notes and blackout poetry, drawings and doodles in to catch readers where they live. I loved Rhyme Schemer and ended up using blackout poetry in my library at the time to get kids looking at words differently. Now, Holt takes on “divergent” kids and uses Sandbox, a game similar to Minecraft, to reach readers. Four characters: BenBee, BenY, JordanJ, and Javier are four kids in summer school for failing a Florida state standardized test (not-so affectionately referred to as the FART). Their teacher is Ms. J, a librarian-turned-teacher who’s got her own assessment she’s sweating over; she has to turn these “divergent thinkers” into readers that can pass the FART. The book unfolds through each tween’s narration, told in their very individual styles: free verse, stream of consciousness, and art. Ms J isn’t your normal type of teacher, and these kids – “the kids under the stairs”, as that’s the area where their classroom is shoehorned – aren’t your typical students. Each is grappling with bigger issues than the FART, and Ms. J eventually understands that she’s got to meet these kids where they live: namely, Sandbox.

BenBee and the Teacher Griefer has it all: grief and loss, learning disabilities and overbearing parents, a teacher willing to do the unconventional work to reach her students, and… Spartacus. The characters are realistic and relatable, fully realized on the page; the frustration with standardized testing and the “one student size fits all” approach, and the pressure on teachers to cram students into that one-size-fits-all model. The book is voraciously readable and deserves a spot next to the most popular Minecraft adventures and the best new kidlit.