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

‘Tis the season for great graphic novel reading!

I know, that was awful, but trying to find new graphic novel headlines is tough! With that, let the games begin.

 

Barb the Last Berzerker, by Dan Abso & Jason Patterson, (Sept. 2021, Simon & Schuster), $13.99, ISBN: 9781534485716

Ages 8-12

A young Berzerker warrior is on a mission to save her fellow warriors after a villain named Witch Head takes them captive. With the help of a Yeti named Pork Chop, and wielding the Shadow Blade that she took from Witch Head, Barb goes on a journey that changes her thinking: where she once fought monsters, she’ll learn that monsters – including sausage-eating yetis – aren’t all bad, and not all humans are good. She meets snot goblins, vampire goats, and a giant who’s sensitive about his foot odor while calling on the power of the Shadow Blade to help her in battle. But the Shadow Blade’s power is not something to be used lightly, and Barb may find that relying on it too much could hurt more than it could help. The first in a new series, Barb is chaotic and hilarious, with gross-out jokes and positive messages about independence and unlearning endemic bias. Readers will cheer for Barb and Pork Chop, who are a buddy movie waiting to happen. Dan & Jason are the creators behind the younger readers’ series Blue, Barry, & Pancakes; visit their website to find out more about their graphic novels.

Barb the Last Berzerker has a starred review from Kirkus. It hasn’t been nominated for a CYBILS yet, hint hint!

 

Whistle: A New Gotham City Hero, by E. Lockhart/Illustrated by Manuel Preitano, (Sept. 2021, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781401293222

Ages 13+

Yet another great DC YA graphic novel, this time from award-winning author and National Book Award Finalist, E. Lockhart. Willow Zimmerman is a 16-year-old Jewish teen activist, living in the Down River section of Gotham. It’s a run-down neighborhood and she’s tired of it being overlooked; she takes to the streets in protest when she’s not at school or at home, caring for her mother, who’s going through treatment for cancer. She works part-time in an animal shelter and feeds her friend, a stray Great Dane she’s named Leibowitz, on the side. When E. Nigma – her mom’s estranged friend – gets in touch with Willow, she learns that he’s cleaned himself up and is a successful real estate entrepreneur who runs an underground gambling promotion on the side, and he wants to give her a job. Faced with mounting bills and the fear of eviction, Willow accepts and starts earning more money than she could have ever imagined. When she and Leibowitz are attacked by Killer Croc, who has a grudge to settle with Nigma, the two realize that they can understand one another – where other people hear assorted growls and barks, Willow hears Leibowitz talking! The two decide to become a superteam and do their part to clean up Gotham: even if it means playing double agents to Nigma, aka The Riddler, and Pamela Isley, who’s helping Nigma out as her alter ego, Poison Ivy. I love the origin stories DC’s YA authors have been putting out, and their new heroes are go good, I can’t help but hope they’ll eventually show up in the big titles. Willow is a smart, likable heroine faced with big, real-world issues: lack of healthcare, a single, ailing parent, and the aggravation of living in a neighborhood that’s ignored by all but real estate developers who will gentrify for cheap and push the incumbent citizens out. She combats this first by taking it to the streets; when that isn’t working fast enough, she learns to play both sides of the game. Leibowitz is her steadfast sidekick with a funny, sly sense of humor (once we can hear him talk), and it’s great to see some Gotham familiar faces (including a surprise cameo) and a new spin on The Riddler. All around, a solid hit from DC yet again.

Whistle has not yet been nominated for a CYBILS yet – you know what to do.

 

 

Friends Forever, by Shannon Hale/Illustrated by LeUyenPham, (Aug. 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250317568

Ages 9-13

The third installment in Shannon Hale’s autobiographical “Friends” series sees Shannon in eighth grade and dealing with anxiety over her looks, her grades, and her popularity. She sees her friends dating, but worries that no one wants to date her. She wants eighth grade to be her perfect year, but she just can’t seem to be happy. She becomes increasingly anxious, with OCD behaviors starting to creep into her daily life. A solidly relatable, realistic picture of the big emotions and worries facing kids as they become teens, Shannon’s adolescence in the 1980s is still every bit as relevant to tweens and teens today; with mental health issues gaining more mainstream attention today, Friends Forever can spark important conversations about the pressures tweens and teens face and coping mechanisms that can help. Friends Forever is about change and finding the courage to accept and love yourself. Beautifully illustrated, and with back matter that includes an author’s note from Shannon Hale that addresses mental health, actual school photos, a peek at LeUyen Pham’s sketchbook, and notes from Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham to one another, just like real friends share. Download a free activity kit with discussion questions and a Readers Theater script, and find activities for all three Friends books at the Real Friends website.

Friends Forever is a first round Graphic Novels CYBILS nominee.

More to come!

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

Live, Love, Theatre: Kate in Waiting

Kate in Waiting, by Becky Albertalli, (April 2021, Balzer + Bray), $18.99, ISBN: 9780062643834

Ages 14+

The best-selling, award-winning author of Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah and the Offbeat is back with her latest YA novel! Kate Garfield and her best friend, Anderson Walker, are high school juniors who have communal crushes. It’s their thing. But when their latest shared crush from drama camp ends up as a student at their high school, things get a little uncomfortable. Matt is sweet, funny, and is a theatre fan, just like they are. He’s cast in the school production of Once Upon a Mattress as Kate’s love interest; he’s in the same drama class as Anderson, while Kate is left out. Kate and Anderson realize that this is not a usual passing crush, and have to figure out how to navigate these new waters while still maintaining their bestie status. There’s great character development here, and discussions between Kate and Anderson touch on some sensitive points like being gay, out, and Black in the U.S. South; splitting a life between homes when one’s parents are divorced, and images versus reality when it comes to “bro culture” (or, as they’re often referred to in Kate in Waiting, “f-boys”). The dialogue is wonderful, realistic, and smart; friendships withstand ebbs and flows of daily teen life. It’s just an all-around great YA novel that should be a big book this summer. Theatre kids will love the process of seeing a production come together, and teens will love the smart, funny writing that breaks your heart and puts it back together again.

Kate in Waiting has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and made the Indie Next Great Reads list.

Posted in picture books, Preschool Reads

The Blue Giant needs your help to save the oceans!

The Blue Giant, by Katie Cottle, (June 2020 Pavilion), $16.95, ISBN: 9781843654452

Ages 3-7

A young girl named Meera and her mother head to the beach to have a relaxing day, when a large, friendly, blue giant emerges from the water. He’s made up of water and sea life, and he tells them that he needs their help! Meera and her mom put on their scuba gear and head underwater, where the giant swirls around, showing them all the pollution underwater: bottles, plastic bags, fast food containers, it’s just a mess! Meera and Mom immediately start pitching in, but they realize this is too big a job for just two people: once back on land, Meera and Mom recruit others, who also recruit others, to clean up the beaches. Like the book says, “…when everybody helps out… even the biggest messes can be fixed!” A note at the end offers ways to reduce single-plastic usage, including easy ways for kids to help out, like taking a canvas bag to the store or carrying a reusable water bottle.

This is a companion to Katie Cottle’s 2019 book, The Green Giant, and examines a different area of pollution this time; where The Green Giant looks at deforestation and destruction of green spaces, The Blue Giant pleads the case for our waters, which are horrifically polluted, primarily by single-use plastics.

The illustrations are primarily rendered in shades of blue, with sweeping underwaterscapes that show incredible levels of junk floating around. A particularly moving panel shows the Blue Giant swirling around Meera and her mother, stirring up a whirlwind of garbage to surround them. Keep both this book and The Green Giant together for natural-world storytimes and Earth Day storytimes, activism and social justice storytimes.

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

More #BooksfromQuarantine, Graphic Novels edition

I’ve been tearing through my graphic novel stash now that I’m back at work two days a week. Here’s some from the new crop.

Supergirl: Being Super, by Mariko Tamaki/Illustrated by Joëlle Jones, (July 2020, DC Comics), $16.99, ISBN: 9781779503190

Ages 12+

The latest DC YA graphic novel is a collection of the 4-issue Supergirl storyline, Being Super (2018). Caldecott winner and YA graphic novelist powerhouse Mariko Tamaki and Eisner winner Joëlle Jones, whose work I’ve really loved on Lady Killer and Helheim, join forces here to tell the story of Kara Danvers, a teen who’s got BFFs, irritating parents that she totally loves, and a ginormous zit. She can also lift a car with one hand, and runs slower than she really can on her track team, but who cares? She loves her life in Midvale… until catastrophe strikes, and leaves Kara with more questions than answers about her past.

What I’ve been enjoying about DC’s YA graphic novels is the relatability. The super powers take a back seat to the relationships and the frustrations of adolescence; here, it’s Kara’s struggle to discover who she is, and the decisions she makes as she seeks that answer. Coping with grief is a secondary theme running through the story. Joëlle Jones’s  artwork is expressive, bold, and eye-catching. Being Super is a Newsweek Best Graphic Novel of the Year.

 

Child Star, by Brian “Box” Brown, (June 2020, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781250154071

Ages 13+

This documentary-style graphic novel gives a look into the life and times of fictional child star, Owen Eugene. From his overbearing stage parents and his sitcom catchphrase to his post-fame struggle to steady his life, this is a story we can see – have seen – unfolding on reality TV. It’s all in here: interviews with co-stars, hangers-on, and former loves; the parents who felt they had a right to Owen’s money; the D-list reality TV shows that feel like the last stop on the road to obscurity. Readers familiar with some of the bigger child star stories will recognize them in Owen Eugene’s story. A sad look at the collateral damage of 1980s pop culture, Child Star is great reading, written by graphic novelist and biographer Brian “Box” Brown, award-winning writer and illustrator of Andre the Giant: Life and Legend, and Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman.

Child Star has a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

One Year at Ellsmere, by Faith Erin Hicks, (July 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250219107

Ages 10+

Originally published in 2008 as The War at Ellsmere (thanks, ComicBeat!), Faith Erin Hicks’s boarding school story gets some updated art and some color. Juniper is a new student at the prestigious (read: snobbish) Ellsmere Academy, an exclusive boarding school where she – daughter of a single mother with thrift store clothes – is quickly labeled “the project” by the school’s Queen Bee, Emily. Juniper and her roommate, Cassie, quickly bond over being outcasts in a school full of Mean Girls; something that helps Juniper as she endures Emily’s brutal bullying. Running through this boarding school story is a touch of magical realism surrounding the forest next to the school. I loved the character development, the fantasy touch with the forest story, and how both elements come together to make yet another great story from Faith Erin Hicks.

Read Faith Erin Hicks’s webcomics at her author website.

Posted in Fiction, Intermediate

Books from Quarantine: Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem by Kate DiCamillo

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem, by Kate DiCamillo/Illustrated by Chris Van Dusen (Tales from Deckawoo Drive), (June 2020, Candlewick Press), $14.99, ISBN: 9781536201802

Ages 7-10

When my bigger little ones (my first and second graders, usually) come into the library, many of them automatically ask me for Mercy Watson books. They love Kate DiCamillo, they love Mercy Watson and all her friends on Deckawoo Drive, and they love Kate DiCamillo at an early age; when they’re a couple of years older, and come in looking for Tales of Desperaux, I remind them that this is the same author they’ve been reading since they picked up Mercy Watson, and that smile, that book hug, it makes every day I’m there fantastic. Yeah, I’m rhapsodizing again; forgive me. It’s been going on three months since I’ve been around my Corona Kids and I’m missing them, big time. Every book I read, I know just the kid I want to tell about it. This is hard, folks. Don’t think for a second it isn’t.

Okay. So, let’s talk the newest book in the Tales from Deckawoo Drive series. Stella Endicott loves school and loves her teacher, Miss Liliana. She’s so excited to work on her assignment, to write a poem, because she knows just who she’s going to write about: Mercy Watson, the pig who lives next door and relaxes on a couch! She creates a lovely poem, but class know-it-all Horace Broom insists that she’s lying: wizards don’t play accordions, and pigs don’t live in houses! Annoyed not only by Horace’s lack of imagination, but the fact that he called her a liar, Stella shouts back at him, and the two are sent to the principal’s office, which leads to an adventure where the two will learn to see things from the other’s point of view.

The Deckawoo Drive books just make me happy. They’re funny, upbeat, and always have a good message to share. Here, we learn that it’s good to be literal and metaphorical. It’s balance! Stella is smart and spirited, and Horace may have learned his lesson about offering uninvited criticism. Gouache artwork from Chris Van Dusen is automatically recognizable: kids will spot this book on a bookshelf (literal or virtual) a mile away. Mercy’s cameo is adorable – if you have the space in your reading area, stick some cushions or pillows on the floor with a stuffed pig and let your kids curl up with their Mercy to read, imagine, and create with.

Stella Endicott and the Anything-Is-Possible Poem has a starred review from Kirkus. Want to visit Deckawoo Drive and spend some time with Mercy? Visit the Mercy Watson website for information about the books, resources for parents and educators, join the fan club, and play some games.

Kate DiCamillo is the Newbery-Award winning author of Flora & Ulysses and The Tale of Desperaux, and a former National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature. Chris Van Dusen is the illustrator of the Mercy Watson and Deckawoo Drive series, and an author-illustrator of books including The Circus Ship and Hattie & Hudson.

 

Posted in Uncategorized

Books from Quarantine: Six Angry Girls

Six Angry Girls, by Adrienne Kisner, (Jul. 2020, Feiwel & Friends), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250253422

Ages 12+

This girl power teen novel is a fantastic story of friendship, knitting, and smashing the patriarchy. Raina Petree is on track to have a great senior year until her boyfriend dumps her, her drama club leaves her in the lurch, and her college dreams aren’t as secure as she initially thought they were. Meanwhile, Millie Goodwin is tired of being her father’s servant, and when her Mock Trial team votes her out in favor of lesser-qualified, newer guys – even after she’s been the backbone of the team for the last three years – she has HAD IT. Raina turns to an advice column for help on getting over Brandon, the ex-boyfriend, leading her to take up knitting as a hobby; a hobby that leads to a meeting of the minds with Millie, and the two come up with the ultimate idea: start their own Mock Trial team. There are no rules against it, and they manage to find a mentor in their school librarian. Now, they just have to fill the open spots on the team – with girls who are sick and tired of being discounted and looked down on by the boys and men who think they’re calling all the shots. It’s time to pick up the knitting needles, study those legal briefs, and take down the patriarchy.

With a fantastic cast of multicultural characters that smash the gender spectrum, Adrienne Kisner has given readers a group of characters that we’d all want to hang out with. They’re smart, driven, and fed up with B.S., whether it’s from a teacher, an ex-boyfriend or fellow student, or a parent. It’s such an upbeat book, filled with major crossroad moments and stand up and cheer scenes while taking on some very big issues. It’s an excellent discussion book that will spark deep conversations.

I loved this book and would gladly shout this out to my library teens. Give this to your Moxie fans and your Ashley Poston readers. And start a knitting club at your library to get them talking!

Check out Adrienne Kisner’s author webpage for more information about her books, links to her blog and social media, and to sign up for her newsletter.

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

I start #MGMarch with Fly Back Agnes

Fly Back Agnes, by Elizabeth Atkinson, (March 2020, Carolrhoda), $17.99, ISBN: 978-1-5415-7820-3

Ages 10-13

It’s Middle Grade March (#MGMarch on social media), and I’m working my way through some incredible Middle Grade in my pile. Let’s start with Elizabeth Atkinson’s Fly Back, Agnes; a book I did not want to put down.

Agnes is a 12-year-old living in Vermont with her mother, who Agnes sees as a “bulldozer” that just rolls over everything in her path. Agnes is frustrated by her mother’s pushiness and opinions about Agnes’s clothes and imminent “becoming a woman”; she really isn’t crazy about her mother’s mumbling artist boyfriend, Richard, and Richard’s weird and obnoxious kid, George. She misses her father, who lives in a nearby town, where he’s a cellist and teaches at a university. She misses her sister, Viva, who’s pulled away from their family entirely. She feels betrayed by her best friend, Megan, who’s become enchanted with the new mean girl, Lux. So when her mother announces that they’re moving to Kansas for the summer, for a project Richard’s been hired to do – despite Agnes having made plans to work at an animals shelter – she has had it. It all starts with a white lie, so she can spend the summer with her dad, who’s housesitting for a friend. She’s thrilled to have the summer with her father, but he’s finishing up his dissertation, so he doesn’t have a lot of time to spend with her, leaving Agnes to wander the town and decide to take on a persona that isn’t Agnes at all. She becomes Chloe, an actress-dancer 14-year-old who has the life Agnes desperately wants. Even as she makes friends in town – a young woman named Stella, Stella’s grandmother, Birdie, and a cute 15-year-old named Fin – the lies get bigger and deeper. Agnes wants to tell them the truth, especially as each reveals their own secrets to her, but she just can’t seem to find a way out.

Two major themes in Fly Back, Agnes are secrets and identities. Agnes is struggling with her identity because she’s on the cusp of “womanhood” – getting her period – something that, for her, is a sign that her childhood is over. She sees her visit to her father as a chance to escape the life she’s in, and tries a new identity on for size while she’s away. Being the main character, she’s the most fleshed out: biracial, with a part-Korean father and American mother, she has her mother’s freckles and curly red hair and her father’s skin tone. Her friends are ready to take on the tween/teen mantle, consumed with their smartphones and appearances, and it feels like a betrayal to Agnes, especially when she overhears mean girl Lux talking with them behind Agnes’s back at a sleepover. Stella and Fin have their own secrets, but they haven’t created a new persona: their identities are wrapped up in their secrets, and their trust in Agnes makes her feel guilty. Agnes’s parents are less fleshed out but have enough background to give us a pretty good picture of them. I wanted to learn more about Viva, but she and Megan were both there to give Agnes more depth, and ultimately, that was fine with me.

Fly Back, Agnes, has great pacing, good characters, and is a story I can’t wait to booktalk to my middle graders. It’s relatable, with (mostly) likable characters, and an interesting mini-plot with rehabilitating wild birds. It’s a good add to your realistic fiction collections.

Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Fiction, Intermediate, Middle Grade, Uncategorized

Polly and Buster prove that witches and monsters should be friends

Kane Miller sent me a middle grade fantasy trilogy about Polly & Buster, a young witch and a young monster who are best friends despite monster and witch society not always seeing eye to eye.

Polly and Buster: The Wayward Witch and the Feelings Monster (Book 1), by Sally Rippin, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-926-8

Ages 7-11

The first book in the series introduces us to Polly, a 9-year-old witch who just can’t seem to get her witching schoolwork right. Her older sister, Winifred, is the star sibling, and her widowed mother is often frustrated by Polly’s inability to excel like Winifred, and by her friendship with Buster, the monster next door. Polly and her family are still reeling from her father’s death in the mines a few years ago, which seems to be the tipping point for witch-monster tensions. When Polly casts a powerful spell while trying to protect Buster from bullies, her actions are misinterpreted, and the relationship between witches and monsters grows dangerous. Polly and Buster have to work together to salvage their own relationship and keep one another safe as witches and monsters choose sides in what could be a brewing war.

I was pulled right into this easily readable adventure. Polly exhibits some ADHD, dyslexic, and OCD tendencies, which could be linked to her burgeoning witch power: think Percy Jackson and the similar issues exhibited by demi-gods in that series. Buster is a kind-hearted monster who tries to hide his sensitivity from other monsters; his feelings manipulate his size and color, leaving him open to bullying. Witch and monster society in this series is symbolic of our own society: racism, intolerance, and exclusion abounds in witch society, while monsters grow increasingly tired and angry of being considered second-class citizens. Throw in a mean girl bully, and her equally mean, manipulative mother, and Polly and Buster goes from being a sweet story about acceptance and friendship to a powerful look at inequality and revolt.

 

Polly and Buster: The Mystery of the Magic Stones (Book 2), by Sally Ripkin, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-61067-927-5

Ages 7-11

The second book in the Polly and Buster series brings the action and the tension up several notches as readers witness the breakdown of relations in witch-monster society. Polly and Buster are on the run from witches who have determined that Buster is dangerous and needs to be taken prisoner (or worse); Polly turns to her favorite teacher, the sympathetic Miss Spinnaker, for help. Meanwhile, a handful of mysterious stones that Polly’s father left to her start to glow and feel warm to the touch; Polly feels them beckoning her… to the mines where her father died?

The Mystery of the Magic Stones brings the action on quickly – witch and monster society are breaking down, and the story has a very Harry Potter feel as a group of vigilante witches start taking policing matters into their own hands as monsters form gangs to protect one another and defend themselves against witches. There’s a feeling of urgency throughout the story, as Polly tries to unravel the mystery of the stones while she and Buster are running and hiding for their lives. No sophomore syndrome here; the second book in the Polly and Buster series will leave readers waiting to find out how this is all going to shake out: make sure you have that third book ready to give them.

 

Polly and Buster: The Seach for the Silver Witch (Book 3), by Sally Ripkin, (Sept. 2019, Kane Miller), $6.99, ISBN: 978-1-68464-095-9

Ages 7-11

The third book in the Polly and Buster series brings things to a big close. Polly and Buster have been on the run through all of the second book as relations between witches and monsters threaten to descend into violence. Polly has made discoveries about herself that will change how others see her – if she can stay safe long enough! Seeking out her aunt – an outcast from witch society – for answers, Polly hopes to unload the burden the stones have put on her. Meanwhile, there’s a dark power brewing in Polly and Buster’s neck of the woods, and it’s making everything worse!

In this third book, Polly learns that she’s far stronger than she ever dreamed – her inner strength will give her the power she and Buster need to make things right between their two communities, and will help her defend everyone she loves against the biggest danger that her village has ever faced. Polly has her hero’s journey across these three books, but Buster also comes into his own as a monster who accepts his feelings and can put aside his own fear to jump in and help when he’s needed.

The whole series, originally published in the UK, is great for emerging readers who are ready for a little more of a challenge in terms of book content and length. It’s an intermediate-level series with more heft and big social issues to unpack. There’s fantastic world-building, solid character development, and sympathetic heroes and villains alike. Black and white illustrations throughout will keep readers interested, and help with pacing and imagining. This series will be super-popular with your fantasy readers. U.S. publisher Kane Miller has a bunch of extras, including a free word search, discussion questions and activities, and some discussions points from the author herself.

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

Rebel Girls: YA turns back the clock

Rebel Girls, by Elizabeth Keenan, (Sept. 2019, Inkyard Press), $18.99, ISBN: 978-1-335-18500-6

Ages 12+

Taking place in the mid-1990s, Rebel Girls is about the riot grrl movement and the abortion debate. Athena Graves is a high school junior and a burgeoning riot grrl. Her younger sister, Helen, is a freshman who prefers Pearl Jam to Bikini Kill and is an aspiring model, while Athena dyes her hair red and eschews all things mainstream. The two sisters couldn’t be more different, but when a rumor makes the rounds at their Catholic high school that Helen had an abortion over the summer, Athena goes on the offensive. She knows that rumor came from Leah, an awful mean girl at school, and her cronie, Aimee. Leah can’t stand someone being as pretty and popular as she is; Helen poses a threat to her popularity. But Leah is dating Athena’s best friend, football player Sean. Pro-life Helen is devastated by the rumors, which get her removed from all extra-curricular activities – including the school’s pro-life club – and could get her expelled. As Athena tries to get to the bottom of the rumors and the bullying Helen endures at school, she starts dating new kid, Kyle, only to have Leah start flirting with him, too. Athena is going to have to lace up her Doc Martens and take on Leah and her mean girls, riot grrl style: which can be the toughest thing of all, because riot grrl culture encourages women to lift up other women, not put them down.

Rebel Girls presents a solid, realistic look at both sides of the abortion debate. Athena and her best friend, Melissa, are both riot grrls and pro-choice advocates, where Helen is firmly pro-life; in defending Helen, the two come up with a strategy that doesn’t preach, but does leave a lot of room for discussion. Riot Grrl culture is alive and well in this book, which resonates, because elements of that culture are experiencing a renaissance today: ‘zines, social causes, and the #MeToo culture have their roots in the ’90s and the riot grrl movement. Athena constantly checks herself through the book, reminding herself that even when things are difficult, she has to find a riot grrl way to handle things. That means not spreading vicious rumors about Leah or tearing her down to make Helen look or feel better. Athena and Melissa find ways to rebel against the faculty and student body persecution of Helen in a brilliant way that unites the school while still following (most of) the rules. As a Catholic schoolgirl from the late ’80s, Rebel Girls was like a trip back home. I loved the writing, the characters, and the smartly crafted story. The story touches on the ugly underneath the gloss in more ways than one, too: Melissa is half Vietnamese and half Cajun; Sean is African-American, and both characters experience racism in the book. It’s a small thread of a subplot, but a solid one to remind readers that the more things change, the more things stay the same. If you have readers who loved Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu, make sure to give them this one.

Rebel Girls has a starred review from Kirkus.

 

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

Happy Book Birthday to Weird Little Robots by Carolyn Crimi!

Weird Little Robots, by Carolyn Crimi/Illustrated by Corinna Luyken, (Oct. 2019, Candlewick), $16.99, ISBN: 9780763694937

Ages 8-12

Two girls discover their mutual love of tinkering and science in this quirky, fun, illustrated novel. Eleven-year-old Penny Rose is new in town, and doesn’t really have any friends yet – unless you count the little robots she makes in her shed. She makes them out of found objects, and tinkers lovingly with them, giving them names and looking after them every day. Lark, her neighbor, is a quirky girl next door who loves birds and tinkers with found objects given to her by the crows; she makes birdhouses to keep her friends safe from the elements. The two girls become friends and create an entire town for the little robots… and when a mysterious wind sweeps through their town, it brings some surprises with it! But while Penny and Lark enjoy one another’s company, a secret science club at school offers Penny membership in their society. Penny feels the tug between her new best friend and a group of like-minded science friends, but making the wrong decisions for the wrong reasons could cost Penny her best friend and the robots that she loves so much.

This is such an unconventional, enjoyable book! I love the idea of making creations out of found objects, and the touch of magical realism infused in this story makes it a joy to read. It’s a STEM story, a friendship story, and a comforting story about second chances. The little robots have their own personalities, each reflected in their names, bestowed on them by Penny. Penny is more tech-focused, while Lark prefers the world around her, showing that making and tinkering presents endless creations. The black and white illustrations throughout give life to the story and keep readers interested as they move through the book.

There’s a downloadable guide with discussion questions and activities, making this a good idea for an ELA/Science partnership or book club/Discovery Club program. I can’t wait until my library’s copy arrives, so I can start telling kids how much they need to read this book. Maybe it’s time for a secret science society at MY library… hmmmm…

 

“[A]uthor Crimi infuses this unassuming transitional novel with compassion, humor, and a refreshing storyline in which girls organically weave a love for science into their everyday lives. Illustrations by Luyken add to the guileless sensibility. A contemplation on the magic of friendship told with sweetness, simplicity, and science.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

Carolyn Crimi enjoys snacking, pugs, Halloween, and writing, although not necessarily in that order. Over the years she has published 15 funny books for children, including Don’t Need Friends, Henry and the Buccaneer Bunnies, Where’s My Mummy?, There Might Be Lobsters, and I Am The Boss of This Chair. Weird Little Robots is her first novel.

For more information, and to download a free classroom guide for Weird Little Robots, visit her website.

Twitter: @crims10

Corinna Luyken is the author-illustrator of The Book of Mistakes. She lives with her husband and daughter in Olympia, Washington.