Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Groundhog Day meets the ’80s in Pretty in Punxsutawney

Pretty in Punxsutawney, by Laurie Boyle Crompton, (Jan. 2019, Blink YA), $17.99, ISBN: 9780310762164

Ages 12+

This fun mash-up of ’80s teen classic movies (Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club) and 1993’s Groundhog Day stars a high schooler who’s stuck in a time loop: her first day of school in a new town. Andie, daughter of a Gen X John Hughes fanatic, wakes up every morning with the Pretty in Pink DVD from the night before stuck in her DVD player. She goes through the first day of school again and again, trying to figure out how to break the loop; she tries everything from joining different cliques to trying on new personas, to no avail. But as she tries to get through each day and stave off the frustration and depression that tries to set in, she also sees past the social groups to the personalities of her classmates, and realizes that she can bring everyone together.

Pretty in Punxsutawney is a fun, light-hearted love letter to ’80s movies (the novel is loaded with great references), friendship, and finding your own space in your community. Andie gains depth as a character as the novel progresses; the other characters are there to support her, so we only get a taste of them. This one’s a fun beach read that Gen X parents can enjoy with their teens.


Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

Two’s Company, Three’s a Crowd? We Are (NOT) Friends!

We Are (Not) Friends, by Anna Kang/Illustrated by Christopher Weyant, (May 2019, Two Lions), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5420-4428-8

Ages 3-7

The duo from the We Are (Not) books are back; this time, they’re learning how to handle having a new friend in the picture. Brown bear and Purple bear are having a great time playing together, when a Blue bear shows up and asks to play. Brown exuberantly agrees, but Purple isn’t quite so sure. Sure enough, Purple and Brown hit it off immediately, and Purple finds himself left out, and proceeds to subtly enact measures that will get Blue away from his best buddy! Blue doesn’t get the hint, and when he returns, Brown suggests they all play together. But now Brown is on the outs, and he’s not happy about it at all. Can three friends find a way to play that makes everyone happy?

The thing I love about the We Are (Not) books is their genuine voice. If you’ve been around kids, this is how things play out; when there are three, someone’s going to end up mad, crying, breaking something, or all of the above. Kids are learning how to navigate relationships; so are Brown, Purple, and Blue. Kids and adults alike will recognize this situation; use that recognition to get them talking about what the three friends could have done differently from the start. Has t his ever happened to them at school? The playground? Home, with friends or family? (Adults can talk about it, too, because let’s be honest: we still haven’t figured it all the way out.) Anna Kang’s dialogue and the escalating frustration of trying to be included when you feel like you’re being left out is so honest, so adorably real, that your readers will giggle with recognition and empathy. And this is a great way to start discussions about inclusion and empathy.

Christopher Weyant’s art is just a joy to look at. It’s bold, bright, and uncomplicated. The bears are simply drawn, performing in their white space, with a chest full of hats and props to move the story forward. Facial expressions, paw gestures, and sound effects roll across the page and speak volumes. We Are (Not) Friends is essential picture book reading.

Anna Kang’s and Christopher Weyant’s You Are (Not) Small is a Theodor Seuss Geisel Award Winner (2015). Visit Anna Kang’s author website for free downloadable activity kits, coloring pages, and curriculum guides for You Are (Not) Small, which you can use to enhance a reading of We Are (Not) Friends.

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

Guest YA Review: Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert

My colleague, Amber, is back with another YA review! Enjoy as she talks about Kelly Loy Gilbert’s Picture Us in the Light.

Picture Us in the Light, by Kelly Loy Gilbert,
(April 2018, Disney-Hyperion), $17.99, ISBN: 9781484726020
Ages 13+
I picked up “Picture Us in the Light” as an ARC at PLA last March. The cover popped, and I grabbed. I’m so glad I did. To my delight, just as I finished reading it, the finished copy showed up from central purchasing, all laminated and ready for my teen shelves!
The plot: Danny Cheng is the son of immigrant Chinese parents. His best friends, Harry and Regina, are dating. It’s a tad awkward because Danny has a secret crush on Harry. His parents are thrilled because Danny got into a prestigious art school, but Danny hasn’t been able to draw in a year. He’s harboring major guilt over his role in a tragedy that affected his whole friend group.  When Regina asks Danny to draw a portrait for the school paper related to the tragedy, Danny worries that his inability to do so will be seen as insult to those affected most. Then Danny finds a mysterious box of papers in his father’s things and his parents clam up when he asks about it.
It’s Danny’s senior year. He might not see his friends again because his college is across the country. Will he tell Harry he likes him? What about hurting Regina? Can he break his dry spell? What’s with that secret box of his dad’s? Why won’t his parents tell him anything? 
Review: This book made me feel so many ways. Kelly Loy Gilbert gets right to the heart of the teen experience. Her bio says she “believes deeply in the power of stories to illuminate a shared humanity and give voice to a complex, broken people.” That is certainly what happens here. While Danny is the center of the story, his parents are the heart. If anything, Danny’s position emphasizes how important he is to them and makes their sacrifices for him hit harder as they are uncovered.  Did they make the right decisions? Did their decisions hurt Danny? You decide. There are plenty of opportunities for debate in this book, which would make it a great choice for book club.  Here is a boy who deeply needs his parents’ open love and support, but because of secrets they are forced to keep from him, their relationship  with him, while loving and devoted, is not supportive in the way he needs.  Danny reflects that closed nature, keeping his own secrets from his parents and his friends. No one has any idea he hasn’t drawn in a year or why.
The best thing about “Picture Us in the Light”, in addition to the wonderful characters and how they are all real and recognizable, is the unfolding story. Mystery upon mystery come to light (yes, I did that, omg I just realized that ‘in the light’ here probably refers to the characters’ dawning awareness—look, I never claimed to be sharp about this kind of thing). OK, sorry. Had a moment there. I’m not going to name the mysteries because part of the joy is discovering them. If  you savor mysteries stemming from secrets so deep they can tear a family apart if they’re kept and might do the same if they’re discovered, you’re in for a treat. 
Recommended for teens 12 and up. Good for readers who enjoy: Mystery. Coming of age. LGBT. Personal relationships. Teen friendship issues.  Parent/child issues.  Chinese-American and Chinese immigrant experiences. Family secrets.
Posted in Fiction, Humor, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Tween Reads, Uncategorized

The Principal’s Underwear is Missing!

The Principal’s Underwear is Missing, by Holly Kowitt, (May 2017, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9781250091321

Recommended for ages 8-12

Ordinary sixth grader Becca Birnbaum accidentally power slams a volleyball right into eighth grade It Girl Sloan “Selfie: St. Clair, setting off a chain of events that end up with the principal’s new, very large bra missing – and with the girls being the last ones to have it in their possession

The Principal’s Underwear is Missing (originally titled The Principal’s Bra is Missing) is one of those middle school tragi-comedy of errors that middle graders love. Ordinary Girl ends up with the In Crowd, but for how long, and is everyone happy with the arrangement?

I wasn’t in love with the two main characters. Becca is the run of the mill Nerd Girl who doesn’t stand out preferring to blend in with her small group of fellow nerd friends. Sloan, called “Selfie”, thanks to her habit of shooting selfies at all the lavish parties and locales she attends, is self-absorbed to the point of mania. When Becca, desperate to make up for the volleyball accident that left Selfie in a cast, tries to retrieve a confiscated shopping bag from the principal’s office, she grabs the wrong bag and sets the story in motion. From there, Becca takes the responsibility for the whole incident, while Selfie just meanders through the novel, alternately shooting selfies and crying about being in trouble while letting Becca do all the work. Becca never makes Selfie take responsibility for her own actions, preferring to drag Selfie along on their adventure.

Look, I’m reading this as a 40-something year old Mom who worries about my kids standing up for themselves. Are middle graders going to get a kick out of this book? Yes. It’s funny, it’s got underwear humor, and a kinda-sorta unlikely friendship between two school social classes. It’s a quick read, and perfect for a beach bag take-along. But if you’re book-talking this one, talk about Selfie, taking personal responsibility, and stereotyping in middle grade books. Please.

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

A little girl on a mission: Gertie’s Leap to Greatness

gerties-leapGertie’s Leap to Greatness, by Kate Beasley/Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, (Oct. 2016, Macmillan), $16.99, ISBN: 9780374302610

Recommended for ages 8-12

Gertie Reece Foy is a fifth grader on a mission. She lives in Alabama with her dad, who works on an oil rig, and her great-aunt, who loves her to pieces. But Gertie’s on a mission to be the GREATEST fifth grader: she’s got quite a few plans. See, she wants to go up to her absentee mother – who lives in the same town – and let her know that she didn’t need her after all. Only one thing is standing in Gertie’s way, and that’s the new girl, Mary Sue Spivey. Mary Sue has a Hollywood director daddy and seems to have the world on a string, and she and Gertie do not hit it off at all.

This is a quick read that middle graders will enjoy. Caldecott Honor artist Jillian Tamaki’s (This One Summer) illustrations really bring a gentle life to the characters, particularly the headstrong Gertie, who takes a little bit to love, no lie. Like most middle grade protagonists, she can get a bit caught up in herself, especially considering her circumstances. Her mom abandoned her family when Gertie was just a baby, yet lives in the same town. Gertie passes her mother’s house on the bus route to school every day, and by some crazy happenstance, she and Aunt Rae only bumped into her mother once while grocery shopping at the Piggly Wiggly. I was confused as to why someone would abandon her husband and child, yet stay in the same neighborhood to continue on with her life.

Gertie becomes much more sympathetic when Mary Sue’s mean girl act kicks into high gear. Mary Sue is a truly awful mean girl. The author tried to soften her and make her  more human at the end, but I wasn’t having it, nor was I having what appeared, to me, her mother sanctioning Mary Sue and her new mean girl clique’s behavior in targeting Gertie via a “Clean Earth Club” (Gertie’s dad works on an oil rig, and Mary Sue’s mom is an environmental lobbyist.) There’s some good diversity in the book, as you’ll see in the illustrations and the descriptions of some characters.

Entertainment Weekly is calling Gertie the “next Ramona Quimby”, and that’s a great starting point for display and booktalk/readalikes. Gertie’s Leap to Greatness is a good middle grade addition to collections where realistic fiction is popular. A story thread about oil rigs and the environment provides some good discussion topics.

There’s a Gertie webpage that offers some of Gertie’s Tips for Greatness, and illustrator Jillian Tamaki’s webpage has more artwork to enjoy.


Some pages from Gertie’s Leap to Greatness, courtesy of Macmillan:


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

Memoirs of a Sidekick – good guys don’t always finish last

memoirsMemoirs of a Sidekick, by David Skuy, (Oct. 2016, Kids Can Press), $16.95, ISBN: 9781771385688

Recommended for ages 9-12

Boris Snodbuckle and his best friend, Adrian, are two students at Bendale Public School. They’re not exactly the most popular kids; Boris and his harebrained plans often put him at the mercy of school bullies and teachers alike, and Adrian’s parents aren’t exactly thrilled with Boris, either. But Boris – “the B-ster” – is endlessly optimistic and just happens to see things differently. He decides to run for student council president, because he wants to make positive changes happen for all the kids across every grade. But Robert, Boris’ chief tormentor, also decides to run, and sets about stealing Boris’ ideas, taking all the credit, and getting the student body to promise their votes to him! Can Boris’ latest wild scheme turn things around?

Memoirs of a Sidekick is built on good values: persistence, optimism, and loyalty, for starters; there’s a strong vein of altruism, with Boris’ desire to take a stand for others. The novel touches on bullying and school social groups, and being a good citizen in the world at large, and there’s a nice emphasis on honesty being the best policy. The book meanders a bit at points, and Boris’ adherence to the Rules he and Adrian live by is relatable, if at times frustrating. Readers will appreciate Boris’ unique way of looking at the world and Adrian’s unflinching loyalty to his best friend.

Memoirs of a Sidekick is a good additional purchase for realistic fiction collections.