Posted in Historical Fiction, picture books, Realistic Fiction

Remembering Green: Spirit triumphs over assimilation

Remembering Green: An Ojibwe Girl’s Tale, by Lisa Gammon Olson/Illustrated by Lauren Rutledge, (Sept. 2020, Eifrig Publishing LLC), $14.99, ISBN: 978-1632332707

Ages 5-8

Wenonah is a young Ojibwe girl from northern Wisconsin. She seeks out her great-grandfather to talk. She’s upset; the chimookomaan school – the white school – she’s forced to attend has cut her hair; forbid her from speaking her language; and won’t even let her use her real name, telling her that she must now refer to herself as Evelyn. Set in the early 1900s, during the period where Native American children endured abusive forced  assimilation efforts that attempted to erase Native history, Remembering Green is a powerful story of remembering. Wenonah’s great-grandfather has wisdom in his words as he speaks about fear of the unknown, which motivated the U.S. government’s actions, and he leads Wenonah on a walk through nature, reminding her to “remember the green”: remember her people, remember their connection to the land, and remember who she is. A glossary and a word on the Indian residential schools make up the back matter. A strong supplemental text on a dark period in U.S. history, Remembering Green is a good addition to collections but should not be considered an #OWnVoices work. The artwork is bright, with natural greens and browns dominating the scenery. Wenonah and her grandfather have beautifully expressive faces, with their eyes communicating volumes.

Remembering Green is part of Eifrig Publishing’s Tales of Herstory series, a series of books that feature different American historical periods from girls’ perspectives. The book was a successful Kickstarter and has been reviewed by School Library Journal.

 

Posted in Historical Fiction, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

Zora and Me: The Summoner brings a brilliant trilogy to a close

Zora and Me: The Summoner, by Victoria Bond, (Oct. 2020, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763642990

Ages 10-14

The third book in the outstanding Zora and Me trilogy sees young Zora Neale Hurston and her best friend, Carrie, facing quickly changing times in Eatonville: grief, loss, and racism are closing in on Eatonville and will change Zora’s life forever. A fugitive is hunted down and lynched in Eatonville – America’s first incorporated Black township – and the mob gleefully terrorizes the citizens of Eatonville; a longtime resident’s death and grave desecration sparks fear into the town and Zora and Carrie worry that voodoo and zombies are somehow involved. Zora’s mother, meanwhile, is in failing health and her father decides to run for town mayor; a decision Zora knows will make her egotistical, grandstanding father even more difficult to live with. Carrie, meanwhile, worries about her own future with her beau, Teddy, when he falls mysteriously ill. Paralleling major events in Zora Neale Hurston’s life, Victoria Bond brings this early part of the author to a bittersweet close. The characters are so fully created, so real, that it’s sad to leave them, especially knowing what awaits Zora in the years ahead. Back matter includes a brief biography, a time line of Hurston’s life, and an annotated bibliography. Powerful, loaded with emotion, this is a necessity for your historical fiction shelves. Handsell this to your middle schoolers; you’ll be giving them her work, Their Eyes Were Watching God, for Banned Books Week when they’re in high school. Publisher Candlewick has a chapter excerpt and discussion guide available on their website.

Zora and Me: The Summoner has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Kirkus.

Posted in Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

YA/Adult Crossover: RING SHOUT is a must-read!

Ring Shout, by P. Djèlí Clark, (Oct. 2020, Tor Books), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250767028

Ages 16+

Nebula Award Winner P. Djèlí Clark (The Black God’s Drums) creates an incredible alternate America, where the Ku Klux Klan are actual monsters, in his latest book, Ring Shout. It’s 1922, DW Griffith is a sorcerer whipping legions of demons into a frenzy with his film The Birth of a Nation, and a trio of young Black women are all that stands in their way. Maryse Boudreaux is a woman with a gift for seeing the real faces of the Ku Kluxes – the demons who feed on the Klans, who are the racist humans whose black hate leaves them open to possession. Teaming up with a gloriously profane sharpshooter named Sadie and a WWI vet, Cordelia, who goes by the nickname Chef, the three have a gift for taking down the Kluxes, until Butcher Clyde, a Klan leader, makes it personal with Maryse. The Ku Kluxes have plans for Maryse, but so do the mysterious Aunties that appear to her. Ring Shout is incredible dark fantasy, loaded with Gullah tradition and African-American folklore and main characters that readers will immediately take to. The storytelling is rich and haunting, filled with humor, action, and body horror. The characters are so vivid, so strong, they could be sitting next to you, whispering their tale. If you loved Justina Ireland’s Dread Nation and The Deathless Divide, make sure to get Ring Shout on your reading list, STAT.

Want more Black Girl Magic suggestions? Epic Reads has a good list; consider navigating over to Black Girls With Magic & Books Club.

Ring Shout has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

 

Posted in Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

#HomesCool for babies, too! Anti-Racism, Climate Change, Oceanography, and Mammals!

Babies need fun books, too! #HomesCool doesn’t just start with school-age kids: let’s take a look at some of the best board books out this summer, ready for you to read to your lap-sitters as we head into Fall.

Anti-Racist Baby, by Ibram X. Kendi/Illustrated by Ashley Lukashevsky, (June 2020, Kokila), $8.99, ISBN: 9780593110416

Ages 0-4

If you haven’t had the chance to enjoy Anti-Racist Baby yet, please find a copy now! National Book Award Winner Ibram X. Kendi and illustrator Ashley Lukashevsky have created a gorgeous, playful book for readers of all ages that celebrates diversity and offers simple, wonderful ways that we can teach our children, from the  youngest ages, to be actively anti-racist. There are easy concepts to grasp here; it’s our job as parents and caregivers to use the vocabulary to break down large concepts as “see all colors” “and “blame the policies, not the people” to our kids. The illustrations are bold, upbeat, and feature diverse groups of families. The rhyming scheme will keep kids entertained, introducing them to new words – just like STEM board books! – while we show them concepts through our own actions. Consider this for your collections, display and read with books like Feminist Baby, Woke Baby, and A is for Activist.

Anti-Racist Baby has a starred review from School Library Journal.

 

Climate Change for Babies, by Chris Ferrie/Illustrated by Katherina Petrou, (Aug. 2020, Sourcebooks Explore), $9.99, ISBN: 9781492680826

Ages 2-5

Another Chris Ferrie STEM board book! I love his STEM series for babies and toddlers. Here, Chris Ferrie and illustrator Katherina Petrou teach littles about climate change, using the idea of a blanket keeping planets warm: that’s the atmosphere. Different planets have different blankets, but Earth’s blanket is just right, thanks to our trees, animals, and oceans… but not when people start changing the blanket with transportation, pollution, and livestock! When our blanket gets too hot, Earth doesn’t feel well, and makes a lot of things go wrong. What can we do? Lots of things, like plant more trees, cut down on coal, oil, and cars and factories! Simply illustrated with bright colors and pictures of happy and sad planets, vehicles, and landscapes, kids will be entertained while we grownups digest the big picture and talk about keeping our world safe and healthy.

 

ABCs of Oceanography, by Chris Ferrie/Illustrated by Katherina Petrou, (Aug. 2020, Sourcebooks Explore), $9.99, ISBN: 9781492680819

Ages 2-5

It’s a Chris Ferrie Fest! ABCs of Oceanography is the seventh(ish?) book in Ferrie and illustrator Katherina Petrou’s ABCs series. Like other books in the series, this book grows along with your little ones: Colorful pictures illustrate each alphabetical concept, with the letter and word bright and bold, standing out against a stark white background: “A is for Algae”, with an illustration of algae. Next, for young learners, the concept word is used in a descriptive sentence: “Algae are aquatic life that conduct photosynthesis”; using bigger vocabulary words in a scientific context, to introduce preschoolers to the basic words they can expect to learn in kindergarten. Finally, a fuller definition, perfect for children moving up into elementary school, yet still easy enough to grasp, to give them the full breadth of the definition and ownership of the concept. There are familiar words, like Dolphin, Island, and Octopus, and newer words, like Euphotic Zone, Gyre, and Quahog. Pair with Baby Shark and get some flannel ocean figures out!

Sourcebooks has a Baby University page on their publisher website, that features Chris Ferrie’s books organized into series: For Babies, ABCs, and Picture Books.

 

Curious About Mammals, by Cathryn Sill/Illustrated by John Sill, (Aug. 2020, Peachtree Publishing), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-68263-198-0

Ages 0-3

This book is adorable and informative! The second book in Peachtree’s and author-illustrator team Cathryn and John Sill’s Discovering Nature series, Curious About Mammals presents one-sentence facts about mammals, accompanied by elegant, detailed wildlife artwork by wildlife illustrator John Sill. The sentences contain basic facts and plenty of sight words for young learners, with the accompanying artwork showing animals in their daily lives: climbing; swimming; flying; alone, or with a group. Each animal’s common name appears under their picture, in small italic text, letting readers go back and discover their new favorite animals again and again. Some may be familiar, like the Northern Raccoon and Blue Whale; others may be brand new, like the Black-Tailed Jackrabbit and American Badger. A great add to board book collections where you have burgeoning animals fans.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Graphic Novels, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

#Books from Quarantine: Graphic Novels Rundown

I’m reading through my graphic novels stash this week, and have lots to talk about. Jumping right in.

The Black Mage, by Daniel Barnes/Illustrated by D.J. Kirkland, (Aug. 2019, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620106525

Ages 10+

This book was published last year, and I just found it as I was going through my hard drive during the quarantine. WOW, am I glad I did, because this is timely. It starts off with a young man named Tom Token being invited to St. Ivory Academy, a historically white wizarding school, as their first Black student, part of their “Magical Minority Initiative”. The headmaster, Atticus Lynch, wears a white robe with a pointed hood, but… it’s okay, right? Tom and his pet crow, Jim, arrive and face predictable racist treatment, from ridiculous questions (“Do you drink grape soda rather than potions to enhance your magical powers?”) to straight up hostility. When Tom discovers a mysterious student ID card, he’s determined to get to the bottom of what’s really going on at St. Ivory Academy. Joined by his new friend, Lindsay – a white girl who’s quickly learning that St. Ivory is up to no good – Tom meets two ghosts from history that will show him a dangerous conspiracy that goes all the way back to the Civil War. If Tom can’t expose St. Ivory, he may lose his soul!

This was SUCH a good story, with manga-influenced artwork, fast-paced action and dialogue, and a socially relevant storyline. I love having Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, and John Henry featured as superhero freedom fighters, even in the Great Beyond. Great art, great story, great book for middle schoolers. Make sure you’ve got this handy when you rejuvenate your collections. Oni Press has an educator/discussion guide for The Black Mage available here.

 

Fun Fun Fun World, by Yehudi Mercado, (Apr. 2020, Oni Press), $12.99, ISBN: 978-1620107324

Ages 8-12

Written and illustrated by Sci-Fu’s Yehudi Mercado, Fun Fun Fun World starts off with the crew of the Devastorm 5, led by the inept Captain Minky, running from another failed mission. Minky’s in serious trouble if he doesn’t have tribute for his Queen, so he makes her an offer she can’t refuse: he’ll give her the Earth. The rest of the Devastorm has no idea how they’re going to pull this off, but Minky is convinced they can do it. So when they land at Fun Fun Fun World, a down-on-its luck amusement run by a single dad raising his son, Javi, they think they’ve got Earth laid out in front of them. Javi figures things out pretty quickly and decides not to tell them that they’ve landed in Des Moines: after all, he needs their technology to get the park up and running, saving his dad’s career and keeping a roof over their heads. The story is hilarious, bananas, and too much fun to read. It’s bright, it’s neon, with confused aliens and a kid who keeps outstmarting them to further his father’s dream. There’s a super secret mystery hidden at the heart of Fun Fun Fun World to spice things up a bit, and there’s always the threat of interplanetary war to keep things running. Kids who love watching Cartoon Network’s high-energy cartoons like Steven Universe and The Regular Show will love this.

Yehudi Mercado includes rough pages from the work in progress and a photo of the kids who helped come up with some of the featured rides at the park. There’s also an FFFW Character Quiz from publisher Oni Press that will make comic book discussion groups a hit. Checkout Yehudi Mercado’s webpage for a look at more of his books, a free preview of Fun Fun Fun World, and links to social media.

 

Wallace the Brave, by Will Henry, (Oct. 2017, Andrews McMeel Publishing/AMP Kids), $9.99, ISBN: 9781449489984

Ages 7-11

Reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes, Wallace The Brave is a collection of comics strips about Wallace, an imaginative, inquisitive boy named Wallace, his best friend, Spud, and the new girl, Amelia. We also meet Wallace’s parents and unibrowed, feral little brother, Sterling, all of whom live in the small town, Snug Harbor. Kids who love Big Nate will get a kick out of Wallace, who’s always up to something; whether he’s spinning epic tales about the school bus, testing the strength of a stale muffin, or trying to figure out what seagulls are really saying.

The book includes a map of Snug Harbor, with major locations from the comic strip numbered; ways to organize a beach cleanup, help monarch butterflies, and make a nature crown. There’s a sequel, Snug Harbor Stories, for readers who want more. Wallace’s page on the AMP website has free, downloadable sheets with activities that you can do at home with the kids, and a book trailer for Snug Harbor Stories.

Cat and Cat: Cat Out of Water (Cat & Cat #2), by Christophe Cazenove, Hervez Richez & Yrgane Ramon (July 2020, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781545804780

Ages 7-10

The second collection of Cat and Cat stories is just as much fun as the first. Catherine and her cat, Sushi, live with Cat’s dad; the strips are a series of funny slice-of-life moments. This time, the big story is that Dad takes Cat and Sushi on a camping trip, where Sushi proceeds to wreak havoc on the campgrounds. Other moments have Sushi visiting the neighbors to get his daily snacks in; constant struggles surrounding the cat door and Sushi’s habit of inviting all the cats in the neighborhood to Dad’s house, and Sushi trying to figure out what that big ditch filled with water (the new pool) is supposed to be for.

Brightly illustrated with expressive cartoony characters, this is a great addition to titles like Sisters, Ernest & Rebecca, Dance Class, and Chloe. Papercutz has the inside track on great graphic novels for Intermediate level readers who are looking to move up from Easy Readers and may need a break from chapter books.

 

Dance Class: Letting It Go (Dance Class #10), by Crip and BéKa, (March 2020, Papercutz), $14.99, ISBN: 9781545804322

Ages 7-10

Dance Class is one of the most circulated graphic novels series in my library. The kids love the stories about the dancers at Dance School, so I decided to finally sit down with a book that I got from Papercutz’s Virtual ALA email and see what the hubbub is about. I get it: it’s just a fun series! The adventures of the younger dancers and the teen dancers is good-natured and fun, with this latest storyline centering on the school’s upcoming production of The Snow Queen, and the beautiful new dress to be worn by the show’s star…. if they can get the dress to stop disappearing! It’s an amusing series of miscommunications and misunderstandings as the dancers get ready to put on their show.

Brightly illustrated with cartoon characters, fun dialogue and silly sight gags, like the dancer who’s menaced by a classmate – in her dreams! – this is a book that appeals to Loud House, Sisters, and Chloe readers. The cover is begging for Frozen fans to devour this book in a single sitting, and they will.

Posted in Fantasy, Graphic Novels, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Superman Smashes the Klan! We could use him now.

I’ve been diving into my graphic novel stash with renewed vigor for the last couple of weeks, and DC is dominating the kids and YA original graphic novel front. Every single one I’ve read has been unputdownable, and there are some brand new characters introduced to the universe that I hope, hope, HOPE we see again, because I know my son devoured these books and that my library kids will gobble them up and ask for more. So let’s check in with DC.

Superman Smashes the Klan, by Gene Luen Yang/Illustrated by Gurihiru, (May 2020, DC Entertainment), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779504210

Ages 10+

Inspired by a 1940 radio serial, award-winning author, artist, and former National Ambassador for Children’s Literature Gene Luen Yang takes on white supremacy and hate, with a little help from Superman. It’s 1946, and the Lee family – scientist Dr. Lee, his wife, and children, Tommy and Roberta – are moving from Chinatown into the Metropolis suburbs. While Dr. Lee and Tommy are excited about the move, Roberta and her mom are a little more reluctant. Dr. Lee pushes his wife to speak English and Tommy wants to fit in with the local kids, while Roberta and her mother are nervous about their English and miss the familiarity of Chinatown. Shortly after the family moves in, a group calling themselves the Clan of the Fiery Cross starts a reign of terror in the neighborhood, burning a cross on the Lee’s property. Police Inspector Henderson of the Metropolis police – an African-American man – gets involved, as does ace reporter Lois Lane. As the Clan increases their attacks on the Lee family, Superman shows up, too. But the Superman here is not the Superman we know and love just yet: he’s a man still learning about his powers and his heritage. When Superman reconciles who he is – Martha and Jonathan Kent’s son – with the discovery that he is also Kal-El from Krypton, all of Metropolis is in for a valuable lesson.

There’s so much going on here: strong subplots contribute to the main storyline of a white supremacist gang attacking a family and a town; we have Superman’s growing awareness of his power and the fact that he, too, is “not from here”, but “passes” because he’s a white male; Roberta, Lois Lane, and Superman working together to uncover the Clan before tragedy strikes; Tommy’s struggle to fit in; an illustration of generational racism at work; and a sinister plot afoot. Gene Luen Yang infuses the story with moments from history and his own life, and his author’s note, “Superman and Me”, at the end of the book, is an 11-page look at Superman, his place in US history, racism in US history, and the author’s own family story. A bibliography is available for further reading.

Superman Smashes the Klan is imperative reading. Gene Luen Yang’s storytelling always makes for incredible reading. Gurihiru’s artwork gives us iconic Superman moments; he calls to mind Action Comics #1 in a page where he hoists a car over his head, Roberta standing next to him, as they face shadowy, pointed hoods brandishing torches, chains, and baseball bats. Young Clark Kent lets his powers take hold of him as he defends a friend, rising in the air and letting laser vision unleash itself.  He discovers his Fortress of Solitude, this time, underwater. The Clan of the Fiery Cross is horrific as they throw their hands high, welcoming a torch of flame in front of the Lee family home. So many powerful moments; he will make Superman fans out of every reader.

The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund has a free, downloadable discussion guide. Superman Smashes the Klan is a great choice for Social Studies, US History, and ELA reading groups. Keep an eye on The Brown Bookshelf if you were unable to watch the Kidlit Rally for Black Lives on June 4th; Gene was one of the authors who spoke, along with luminaries like Jason Reynolds, Jacqueline Woodson, and Kwame Alexander; the full recording will be posted soon. There’s a Q&A with Yang on We Need Diverse Books that you shouldn’t miss, either.

 

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

Blog Tour: The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner

I’m excited to be a stop on The Okay Witch blog tour! I picked up a copy of this graphic novel at BookExpo this year, and loved it. Now, without further ado…

Magic is harder than it looks.

Thirteen-year-old Moth Hush loves all things witchy. But she’s about to discover that witches aren’t just the stuff of movies, books, and spooky stories. When some eighth-grade bullies try to ruin her Halloween, something really strange happens. It turns out that Founder’s Bluff, Massachusetts, has a centuries-old history of witch drama. And, surprise: Moth’s family is at the center of it all!

When Moth’s new powers show up, things get totally out-of-control. She meets a talking cat, falls into an enchanted diary, and unlocks a hidden witch world. With that revelation, Moth’s adventure truly begins – an adventure that spans centuries, generations, and even worlds – as she unravels the legacy at the heart of her life. (from the publisher)

Where to start gushing about The Okay Witch?

The story stars a heroine of color, and the main storyline addresses it from the beginning: Founder’s Bluff’s leader wanted, as Moth’s mother, Calendula states, “a town of sober, obedient, lily-white Pilgrims”. Women – especially women of color – who had any kind of independent spirit? Women of color? That didn’t fit into Judge Kramer’s mold, and it didn’t fit into colonial America’s mold, so they were hunted until Moth’s grandmother and her coven tore the fabric between worlds to create a safe space of their own: Hecate. Moth is a child of color in a mostly white town, where she’s bullied by young white men, one of whom happen to be a descendant of one of the founding families, who even asks Moth where “she’s FROM from”. Moth is a teen coming into her own power and struggling with the decision to embrace it or suppress it to “be normal” as her mother, who eschews magic and witchcraft, begs her to. When Sarah, Moth’s grandmother, shows up to see her granddaughter, there’s a power struggle on either side of Moth that represents her internal struggle.

We also get a sassy talking cat, Moth and Calendula’s friend reincarnated; who also happens to have the sweetest backstory (and gives the story an LGBTQ nudge, further establishing Moth and her family as awesome socially aware folks). Using witchcraft and witch hunts to address prejudice and racism, The Okay Witch makes history and current events equally relevant – and sadly, we see that not much has changed.

The Okay Witch is a fantastic coming-of-age story with characters you’ll love and return to long after you’ve finished the book. Give this to your Roller Girl readers, your BabyMouse readers that are ready to take on more challenging material, and your Raina Telgemeier readers.

The Okay Witch, by Emma Steinkellner, (Sept. 2019, Aladdin)
$12.99, ISBN: 978-1-5344-3146-1
Ages 8-12

 

About the Author

Emma Steinkellner is an illustrator, writer, and cartoonist living in Los Angeles, California. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the illustrator of the Eisner-nominated comic Quince. The Okay Witch is her debut graphic novel as an author. You can visit her webpage to see more of her illustration work.

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

YA Crossover Fiction: New Dark Ages

New Dark Ages, by Warren Kinsella, (Dec. 2018, Dundurn), $14.99, ISBN: 9781459742154

Ages 16+

The second book in Warren Kinsella’s X-Gang series, while set in the ’80s, sees the rise of a candidate that’s eerily familiar: Earl Turner is an all-American guy running for President on a “White is Right” platform, and the country seems to be eating it up. His numbers are going up, his rallies are teeming with supporters, and, most distressing to Kurt Blank and the rest of the X Gang, their former drummer, Danny Hate, is right smack in the middle of it. He went “conservative” after incidents from the first novel (Recipe for Hate, 2017), but to be showing up at political rallies as Earl Turner’s right-hand man? Meanwhile, dead punks are being discovered in cities right after the Nasties’ – the X Gang’s band – shows, and Kurt’s drug habit is starting to become a problem.

Set in the ’80s, New Dark Ages is a reminder that we haven’t come as far – or is it fallen as far? – as we thought we may have. Earl Turner has that jock appeal that went over so well at the time, with the current administration’s open malice for anyone not like him. The narrative tends to jump around a bit, though, and while there’s some good punk culture fiction happening here, along with potentially interesting political intrigue, there are too many balls in the air to keep a cohesive storyline in play.

Is New Dark Ages YA? Not necessarily, but it’s got crossover potential. The characters are in the age range, and confronting issues that will most definitely affect their futures. It’s an additional purchase if you’ve got readers interested in punk culture (including us Gen X readers who were around at the time) and politically charged fiction.

 

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

Reckless Club “remixes The Breakfast Club for the Instagram generation”

The Reckless Club, by Beth Vrabel, (Oct. 2018, Running Press), $16.99, ISBN: 9780762490400

Ages 9-13

I had to use Kirkus’ line in that opening, because how more perfect can one describe a book? Beth Vrabel, one of my favorite middle grade authors, reaches back into one of the movies that defined my generation and brought it back, with a few nips and tucks, to inspire a new generation. We take one group: a Nobody (Jason), a Drama Queen (Lilith), a Flirt (Wes), an Athlete (Ally, also known as “Sports Barbie”), and a rebel (Rex) all come together at a retirement home one day in the late summer. Each has done something so wrong in their last year of middle school that they’ve got to spend the last Saturday before high school here, helping elderly patients and their principal’s sister, who oversees the home. Each teen is paired with an elder, and their personalities quickly emerge, as does a mystery: is one of the nurse’s stealing from the patients?

The book has wonderful callouts to The Breakfast Club, meaning I’ll get to booktalk this to some of my parents, too. We Gen Xers never get tired of ’80s nostalgia! But the story is so much more than that. Beth Vrabel has the dual gifts of dialogue and character development, giving readers a voraciously readable story that delves into LGBTQ+, self-esteem and acceptance, and race matters.

I love Beth Vrabel’s books. I feel good at the end of a Beth Vrabel story, and I feel like people can and still want to make a difference when I read a Beth Vrabel story. She tells realistic stories about kids we could see in our classrooms, our libraries, and at our dinner tables every day, and provides insights that we may not even realize we’re overlooking. That handsome class president with the dimples may not have it as easy as you think. The drama queen that throws a hissy fit may have hit her last straw with an awful teacher. That star athlete may have something really unhealthy pushing her to excel. It reminds us, as adults, as well as middle graders and tweens, that everyone has something going on under the surface. A final note, a la the Breakfast Club, sums up the group’s experiences of the day, and we can only hope that The Reckless Club has another adventure in store for us soon.

Visit Beth Vrabel’s website for study guides, news about her other books, and info about school visits.

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

Hearts Unbroken is strong, smart #ownvoices YA

Hearts Unbroken, by Cynthia Leitich Smith, (Oct. 2018, Candlewick), $17.99, ISBN: 9780763681142

Ages 13+

High school senior dumps her jock boyfriend when he makes disparaging comments about Natives in front of her. You see, she’s Native: Creek nation – Muscogee – to be precise. She shakes off his badmouthing and focuses on the school year: she’s on the school newspaper staff and she’s paired with Joey Kairouz, the new photojournalist. Her brother, Hughie, is a new freshman at the same school, too, and lands a coveted spot in the school play: he’s going to be the Tin Man in the school production of The Wizard of Oz. Not every parent is thrilled with the diverse casting, though: a group calling themselves Parents Against Revisionist Theater starts lodging complaints and pressuring local businesses against supporting the play. Hughie and other actors of color start receiving anonymous hate mail. Battle lines are drawn throughout the student body and faculty. Joey and Louise try navigating a relationship while they work on the paper together, but Louise’s worries about “dating while Native” may cause more hurt to Joey than she expects.

Hearts Unbroken is just consuming. I didn’t want to put it down until I finished it. There are such rich, realistic characters, and Louise is just brilliant. She’s no simpering heroine – the book starts with her breaking up with her boyfriend for disparaging Natives, and she never looks back. Cynthia Leitich Smith creates such textured, layered characters and educates readers on Native life and language, giving me an even deeper respect for #ownvoices work than I already had. She gives Louise and her family challenges both common and unique: Louise has a bad breakup; she is self-absorbed and isn’t a mindful friend when her friend Shelby needs her; she works through her feelings about sex and when she will be ready. Louise and her family also deal with racism and whitewashing among their own neighbors and classmates. Hughie agonizes over discovering that L. Frank Baum, who created the wonderful world of Oz, so rich in its own diversity, was a virulent racist who published pro-genocide editorials surrounding the death of Sitting Bull and the massacre at Wounded Knee. It’s heartbreaking and infuriating to read, but it’s real, and she transfers this ache and this anger to her characters, giving them big decisions to make on their own while educating readers, too.

Cynthia Leitich Smith, who, like Louise is a citizen of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, provides a Mvskoke/English Glossary to help readers with some of the phrases that appear in the book, and an author’s note that talks about parallels between Louise and herself, and the writing of Hearts Unbroken. Dr. Debbie Reese has a fantastic write-up of Hearts Unbroken on her page, American Indians in Children’s Literature.

An absolute must-add to your YA collections. Read a sample chapter and the author’s note on the Candlewick page.