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

Marshmallow & Jordan is a gentle friendship story

Marshmallow & Jordan, by Alina Chau, (Oct. 2021, First Second), $22.99, ISBN: 9781250300607

Ages 8-12

Set in Indonesia, Marhsmallow & Jordan is a story of friendship and finding one’s own way. Jordan is a middle schooler who loves basketball: even an accident that put her in a wheelchair can’t stop her, mostly. She can’t compete with the team like she used to, but still serves as captain. She’s feeling a bit unfulfilled, when she rescues a hurt white baby elephant that she promptly names Marshmallow. The two new friends quickly become attached. Meanwhile, Jordan’s basketball coach recommends she try out for water polo after Marshmallow digs Jordan a pool, letting her take to the water without worrying about her wheelchair weighing her down. The training isn’t easy, but Marshmallow’s loving support and her own determination keeps Jordan focused on practice and success. But Marshmallow is hiding a secret of her own. Rich with warm colors and Indonesian culture and a diverse group of characters, Marshmallow & Jordan is a great middle grade story that works as a book club pick and a realistic fiction piece. Back matter includes a glossary of Indonesian terms, an author’s note, Indonesian facts, and food recommendations.

Visit Alina Chau’s author website for more information about her books, to sign up for her newsletter, and connect to her social media. Read an interview with Alina Chau at SLJ’s Good Comics for Kids, TeachersPayTeachers has free Indonesian activities, including an animal word search from Teach With Mrs. T’s Class and a map of Indonedia from The Harstad Collection. Britannica for Kids has information about water polo.

 

Posted in Non-Fiction, picture books

Simone Biles’ lyrical picture book biography: Flying High

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, by Michelle Meadows/Illustrated by Ebony Glenn, (Dec. 2020, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250205667

Ages 4-7

A lot of ink has been spilled and a lot of newstime has been spent on Simone Biles, whose withdrawal from several Olympic events this summer has reopened important conversations about mental health. Simone Biles has started a worldwide conversation on performance pressure and anxiety, and, more importantly, the ability to speak up and own that anxiety.

Michelle Meadows and Ebony Glenn’s late 2020 picture book biography, Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles, touches on some of those moments within the greater story of the champion’s life so far. Told in rhyming verse, the story begins with Ms. Biles and her siblings being adopted by family members, and the moment a rainy day decided her future as a gymnast. It details the rise to her fame, but it also looks at moments like a disappointing defeat when she tried out for the national team: “Crushed by defeat, / she loses her spark. / What will it take / to rise from the dark?” The story doesn’t shy away from her sacrifices, like choosing homeschool over conventional, in-person learning, to make more time for gymnastics, and it returns, time and again, to her incredible drive to succeed. Written before Simone Biles’s Olympics withdrawal, Michelle Meadows had the understanding and the foresight to see and include moments like this in Biles’s story. Ebony Glenn’s digital artwork gives us expressive, photorealistic illustrations of Simone Biles, her family, and her teammates. She beautifully recreates the gymnast’s incredible skill, with Biles twisting, flipping, and landing with grace and style. Her facial expressions communicate volumes, whether it’s her focus, disappointment, worry, or sheer joy. Back matter elaborates on Simone Biles’s early childhood, includes fast facts about the gymnast, and sources for more reading.

Flying High: The Story of Gymnastics Champion Simone Biles has starred reviews from School Library Journal and Shelf Awareness. Visit Simone Biles’s webpage for more information about the champion, and links to her social media. Her page on the US Gymnastics website lists career highlights, and her page on the Team USA website offers more about her Olympics experience.

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

Stealing Home tells a story of the Japanese-Canadian Internment

Stealing Home, by J. Torres/Illustrated by David Namisato, (Oct. 2021, Kids Can Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781525303340

Ages 9-13

It’s 1941, and Sandy Saito is a happy Japanese boy, living with his family in Canada, and a big baseball fan. He obsessively follows the Asahi team, a Japanese-Canadian baseball team, and the pride of his community. But the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor in December, and Sandy’s life as he knows it is forever changed: he and his family are moved to an internment camp, and separated from their doctor father, who’s placed “where he needs to be”. As Sandy and his brother try to adjust to their new life, they find some comfort in their favorite sport; Sandy tries adopting the mindset of taking whatever pitch comes your way.

An emotional graphic novel, Stealing Home may be an awakening for some readers who thought that only Japanese Americans were put into internment camps; this was not the case. Canadian families were also separated more often than American families; males were often relocated to labor and POW camps. In Stealing Home, Doctor Saito was initially relocated to a camp where he could look after men at these labor camps; after being reunited his family, he continues working as a physician to the camp community. Hope and baseball intertwine throughout the story as Sandy tries to cope with his family’s new life, his mother’s grief, and his father’s continued distance from his children. Baseball is a beacon of hope and, ultimately, the great uniter. Sandy reflects, looking back, that “Baseball did not discriminate against us. It did not impose any limits on us. It helped us forget everything that was wrong in the world, even if just for one moment in time”.

Back matter by author and former internee Susan Aihoshi looks at the history of the camps, the racism Japanese Canadians endured, the Asahi, and further resources. An excellent graphic story and companion to novels like George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy.

The University of Washington has excellent resources available on the Japanese Canadian internment, as does the Canadian Encyclopedia. Curio.ca offers a lesson plan on the Asahi baseball team, and you can visit the Asahi Baseball Association’s website to learn more about the team.

Stealing Home is a first-round CYBILS middle grade graphic novel nominee.

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

A 40-year old whodunnit! Soccer Trophy Mystery

Soccer Trophy Mystery, by Fred Bowen (Sports Story #24), (Sept. 2021, Peachtree Publishing), $6.99, ISBN: 9781682630792

Ages 7-12

Sports mystery author Fred Bowen’s latest Sports Story looks at a decades-old mystery and examines the impact of Title IX on generations of female athletes. Soccer playing twin siblings Aiden and Ava and their friend Daniel are working hard to get their teams into the championships and get their teams’ names inscribed on the league’s soccer trophy when they learn that this isn’t the first and only soccer trophy for their league: the original one went missing 40 years ago and the mystery has never been solved. While practicing for championships and keeping up with their schoolwork, Aiden and Ava are intrigued by the history of the trophy and start investigating what could have happened to it. Fast-paced action sequences and an intriguing mystery and how it ties into sports history will appeal to readers who love sports, especially soccer. Back matter tells “The Real Story” about the mystery of the original FIFA Word Cup trophy and women’s sports. Give this to your Baseball Mysteries readers, your Ron Roy mystery fans, and your Mike Lupica and Tim Green readers.

Fred Bowen is an award-winning author and Washington Post KidsPost sports columnist. Visit his author website for more information about his books.

 

Posted in Middle Grade, Non-fiction

Zion Unmatched: A Photo Essay of a Champion

Zion Unmatched, by Zion Clark and James S. Hirsch, (Aug. 2021, Candlewick Press), $17.99, ISBN: 9781536224184

Ages 8-12

Zion Clark is an athlete and musical prodigy. Born in 1997 and raised in the foster care system, he dealt with abuse and the dual stigma of being African-American and disabled. But, as Zion Clark states in the introduction to his book, Zion Unmatched, “I love to defy expectations”. The Paralympian wheelchair racer and wrestler will be competing for gold in both 2021 and 2024. Zion Unmatched is a photo study, with quotes from Zion Clark and people who have influenced him, from his mom (who adopted him as a high school senior) to his coaches, that will inspire anyone who reads it. Gorgeous, full-color photos chronicle Zion’s childhood all the way through his current training regimen; quotes are bold, a testament to mental and emotional strength. An incredible profile of an incredible athelete, this is the first in a planned trilogy of books Clark has planned to release with Candlewick.

Learn more about Zion Clark at his website; see his profile on the Paralympics website.

 

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

Hit the Court with The Fifth Quarter

The Fifth Quarter, by Mike Dawson, (May 2021, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781250244185

Ages 8-12

Lori Block loves being on her school basketball team, even if she and her friends are relegated to playing “the fifth quarter” – the extra period where the not-so-good kids play and the points don’t count. Determined to get better, she practices and takes part in different basketball camps, but she’s got to learn how to finesse her social interactions: she can come off as brusque or downright mean to players she doesn’t think match her own drive to succeed. Meanwhile, her mom’s considering running for local office, taking more time away from Lori. Can Lori develop her own self-confidence, learn to navigate everyday social situations, and up her basketball game?

The Fifth Quarter is a good sports story and a good school story. Lori is a relatable character; she’s a fourth grader dealing with some big feelings: she’s got two younger siblings constantly clamoring for her parents’ attention; she gets frustrated by friends who don’t share her consuming passion for basketball, and may even be slightly threatened when a new friend shows up to play what she may feel is “her” sport. When her mom decides to run for public office, it adds another layer of frustration and stress to Lori’s life; it’s even more competition for her mother’s time, helping her mom campaign will take time away from basketball practice, AND since her mother is running against a school friend’s father, she’s worried that it will affect her friendship. That’s a lot for a fourth grader! Her parents are supportive and encouraging, and her friends stand firm and call Lori out when they see her being unreasonable, letting readers know that it’s okay to feel these things, but not okay to act negatively on those feelings. Readers will see themselves in Lori, and hopefully, her friends, too. A smart book that respects its readers, with artwork that realistic fiction graphic novel readers will recognize and enjoy, The Fifth Quarter is good reading for all graphic novel/realistic fiction readers. Suggest books like Pippa Park Raises Her Game, by Erin Yun, Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, Cathy Johnson’s The Breakaways, and Jason Reynolds’s Track series.

Posted in picture books

Women to Know: Sarah Gerhardt, Surfer

Sarah and the Big Wave, by Bonnie Tsui/Illustrated by Sophie Diao, (May 2021, Henry Holt & Co), $18.99, ISBN: 9781250239488

Ages 4-8

Sarah Gerhardt, one of the first female big-wave surfers and the first female to surf Mavericks, an infamous big-wave surf break in California, has her moment in this picture book biography. Sarah’s story begins in Hawaii, where she began surfing small waves as a young girl, working her way up to larger waves and finessing her technique. The story touches on the sexism she encountered, and the joy of finding a group of friends to surf with. Working her way from Hawaii to California, Sarah is ready for the next challenge: The Mavericks, also called “Mount Everest meets Niagara Falls”. An inspiring story for young women about meeting challenges, readers will enjoy meeting Sarah Gerhardt. Talk about mindful practices she uses, like breathing and counting, to help readers understand the need to put oneself in a calm frame of mind when up against hurdles in life. Back matter includes a timeline in the history of women and surfing, going back to the 17th century and famed Hawaiian princess Kaneamuna! Illustrations are simply beautiful, with deep blues and greens inviting readers to embrace the ocean, and action shots of Sarah Gerhardt are dynamic.

There are some good resources on Sarah Gerhardt for more discussion. Keep some of these articles handy for anyone interested in learning more: “Sarah Gerhardt on Big-Wave Surfing in a Man’s World” (Outside magazine, 2018);  “Women in the Wild: Sarah Gerhardt” (The Outdoor Project, 2019); “Titans of Mavericks: Sarah Gerhardt” (Titans of Mavericks), and “Sarah Gerhardt: Girl Meets Mavericks (Visit California, 2021).

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

Heels, Faces, Works and Life: Bump by Matt Wallace

Bump, by Matt Wallace, (Jan. 2021, Katherine Tegen Books), $16.99, ISBN: 9780063007987

Ages 8-12

MJ is a twelve-year-old wrestling fan who is dealing with loss in her home life and racism in her school life. She feels isolated, alone, with only her wrestling show for company until she notices a covered wrestling ring in her neighbor’s yard. Turns out, her neighbor is the owner of a wrestling school, and after some intense discussion with her mother and some successful nudging on MJ’s part, Mr. Arellano – Papí, to his wrestling students – agrees to take her on as a student. At the Victory Wrestling School, MJ finally feels like she’s part of something, but an investigator from the state Athletic Commission is doing his best to shut Mr. Arellano down. MJ is determined to get to the bottom of some shady business and save the school and her wrestling family.

I loved Bump, because it’s such a good mix of family stories – the family we have and the families we create – plus the fun and work of the wrestling business. MJ knows that the bruises are real; she loves the rich history of the luchadores, and she loves being part of this history. Wrestling fans will enjoy all the nuances and peek into the ground floor of the industry, and sports fans will enjoy the heart and guts that comes with dedication. Matt Wallace addresses the casual racism that exists in our schools, and all too briefly looks at the issues with racism within MJ’s friend group. The action is fast-paced, and there’s a wild moment that belongs in a wrestling storyline that brings the story to its conclusion. A good read that I’d hand off to my library kids. Add some luchador coloring masks to your book discussion activity and invite the kids to explain why they chose the designs they did; make the masks an extension of their personalities. There’s a good explanation of lucha libre and its place in Mexican culture at SpanishPlayground.net.  Not an #OwnVoices book, but a good read that kids will like.

Posted in Intermediate, Non-Fiction

Books from Quarantine: Tag Your Dreams!

Tag Your Dreams: Poems of Play and Persistence, by Jacqueline Jules/Illustrated by Iris Deppe, (Apr. 2020, Albert Whitman & Company), $17.99, ISBN: 9780807567265

Ages 7-10

I’m getting that TBR under control a little more every day! Tag Your Dreams is a book of poetry about sports and play for kids, but it’s more than that. These are poems about endurance, self-esteem, community, and reaching goals. It’s about a girl reaching out to a new friend by reciting a rhyme that her Guatemalan grandmother taught her (“Clapping  Hands”); it’s about a girl, swimming gracefully, mermaid-like, as she remembers being bullied for her weight earlier that day (“Mermaid Manatee”); a father and son cruising through a park on matching scooters (“Kick Scooters”), and a playground where “Spanish jumps just as high as English” as the kids skip rope and sing together. A multicultural group of adults and kids come together on these pages to play, to laugh, and to inspire readers. Jacqueline Jules, award-winning author of the Zapato Power and Sofia Martinez book series, created 31 poems about the power of play and the power of persistence to motivate readers: motivate them to play, motivate them to embrace themselves, and work as part of a team while striving to be their best. Iris Deppe’s colorful artwork shows children and grown-ups together in various stages of play: clapping hands underneath a tree, reaching for a ball in the outfield, or walking a trail with grandparents. A nice addition to poetry collections, with positive messages that we need more than ever these days.

Jacqueline Jules’s author webpage has information about her books and plenty of free, downloadable activities connected to her books.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.