One thing I’ve wanted to do for years is to create a book activity kit/book club guide. There are so many great ones out there, and I thought it would be a fun thing to work on to have, at the very least, for my library kiddos when I introduced book clubs (something we’d talked about revisiting, back in the Before Times). Once we went into quarantine, I thought it would be a good time to put together the scribbled notes I’d cobbled in my copy of Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team; I even posted about it when I wrote about the book. Here it is… my first attempt at a book club guide for Derby Daredevils, with some discussion questions, a roller derby coloring sheet, derby lingo and positions, junior derby leagues, and some reading suggestions. I hope you like it! Just click on the Roller Derby Daredevils Kit link right here for the pdf, and please let me know what you think!
I know, being on the CYBILS first round, I can’t give TOO much away about graphic novels I’m reading, but I did have these on my TBR before I was nominated to judge, so… I’ll just talk them up a wee bit. To whet your appetite for what’s coming.
This is sort of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, with a dose of stuffed animals tossed in for good measure. Earth blows up: kablooey, just like that. But there’s a survivor! Kay, a thirteen-year-old girl, is floating around in space when she’s rescued by Arizona, an alien space-junk collector, and his cybernetic pet Euclid. Arizona looks like a cuddly pink space stuffie that you’d find on the shelves in Target, and Euclid would definitely have his own action figure. There are laughs to be had, especially when Kay explains where she’s from, time and again, to blank faces – we’re not that well-known in the universe after all – and the levels of bureacracy that pop up time and again, as the new friends make their way through space. Softies is comprised of short stories, put together into one volume. The artwork is cartoony and very kid-friendly; the material is probably better suited for higher middle grade to middle school. There are some chuckleworthy moments and some sweet moments as Arizona and Kay try to figure things out together in this new relationship they’re forging. The storytelling has some lags, but overall, kids will get a kick out of it. Good to have for those tough-to-pin-down middle school collections.
Told in parallel narratives between fairy tales and real life, The Magic Fish is the story of Tiến, a Vietnamese teen who loves his family but lives with a secret that he fears will change things. He’s gay, and doesn’t quite know how to come out to them. He shares stories with his parents, particularly his mother, and we can see the story within the story here: each is about suffering, and eventually, rising above difficult circumstances, which mirrors not only Tiến’s life, but his mother’s escape from Vietnam to America and her longing to be with her mother. The artwork itself is breathtaking; the fairy tale scenes are incredible, dreamlike; Tiến’s reality is realistically drawn with fleshed-out characters and expressive body language. Sensitive, beautifully drawn, and perfect for teen collections. The Magic Fish has starred reviews from Publishers Weekly, Booklist, Kirkus, and is an Indie Next pick.
I love that roller derby is back and appealing to middle graders. In recent years, we’ve had Dorothy’s Derby Chronicles from Meghan Dougherty, Jessica Abel’s Trish Trash bringing roller derby to Mars, and Victoria Jamieson’s monster hit graphic novel, Roller Girl. For the teens, DC Comics’s Harley Quinn is taking to the rink, and the girls from Slam! had a derby-centric title. As a kid who always wanted to try derby but was (still) too chicken, this is vicariously glorious.
Enter a new middle grade series, The Derby Daredevils. Kenzie and Shelly are BFFs who love roller derby: Kenzie’s mom is even a derby girl, and Kenzie can’t wait to be old enough to try out for a league. She and Shelly have it all figured out: their superstar moves, their secret handshake, their big rink entrance. Luckily for the girls, their local rink is starting up a junior league and are holding tryouts! But unless they have a team to try out together, the two besties risk being split up if they try out separately. Kenzie’s answer: recruit friends from school and make a team! The have one week to recruit and train a whole team, and Kenzie has a hard time reconciling what’s in her head with reality, which threatens to cause some friction: Shelly and shy classmate Tomoko start becoming friendly, which upsets Kenzie. Isn’t she supposed to be Shelly’s best friend? When Shelly invites Kenzie’s secret crush, Bree, to join the team, Kenzie flips out, but inviting the risk-averse Camila and the way-enthusiastic Jules isn’t helping much. Can the girls get it together in enough time to make the tryouts?
This is SO much fun. There’s so much to work with here: a fully realized cast of characters from different cultural backgrounds, each with a distinct personality. Massive “OMG!” moments involving Kenzie and her crush, Bree, that every middle grader will recognize and empathize with. The relatable feeling of wanting something so bad, that you’ll take that square peg and pound it into a round hole to make it work. And black and white illustrations throughout, to really make readers feel like they’re part of the action! Derby Daredevils is a positive LGBTQ+ series, not only giving us a main character who experiences a crush on another girl, but a transgender dad in a loving marriage. I love the way the author explains Kenzie’s understanding of her dad: “Since her dad was transgender, that meant in some of his stories he looked more like a girl, and in other stories, he looked more like a boy. Actually, he was a boy all along, her dad had explained. But before he told people, they thought he was a girl. In his ‘before’ stories, Kenzie’s dad was like an undercover agent, with a secret only he knew.” It’s a straight-forward, commonsense way to explain gender to kids that respects them and respects the adult. I love it.
There’s action, a little tween romance, and a strong bond of friendship in this book, and I can’t wait for the next book to pub later this year. In the meantime, I’ve dogeared (the horror!) and scribbled all over my ARC, in the hopes of writing a discussion guide for it at some point, so if I get that done, I’ll post it. In the meantime, this is a great choice for a book club and way too much fun for budding (and frustrated middle aged wannabee) derby girls.
The Derby Daredevils: Kenzie Kickstarts a Team has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Booklist.