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

The Tornado takes on a tough question about bullies

The Tornado, by Jake Burt, (Oct. 2019, Feiwel & Friends), $16.99, ISBN: 978-1-250-16864-1

Ages 10-14

Fifth grader Bell Kirby loves systems and structure. He uses them to excel in his school’s Creator’s Club, he creates an enviable habitat for his pet chincilla, Fuzzgig, and he stays under the radar, away from the school bully, Parker Hellickson – who also happens to be the principal’s son. When Daelynn Gower shows up – a new kid in town, straight out of homeschool, with rainbow-colored hair and a personality to match – and befriends Bell, she puts all of his hard work and systems at risk. Because Daelynn can’t help but be noticed. But when Daelynn finds herself in the bully’s sights, Bell finds himself at a crossroads: back in Parker’s good graces if he stands by and lets the next kid take the abuse, or stand up for himself and his new friend.

This is a strong story about bullying, looking at it from a less examined point of view. What happens when your bully moves on to another kid? Bell struggles with this because he’s relieved, but he knows that even standing by, pretending not to see the bullying, is wrong. When he learns that he was another kid’s relief from being in Parker’s sights, he knows, even more, that he has to take a stand. It’s a topic that can contribute to a meaningful class discussion. Jake Burt gives us fully realized characters here. Bell loves building and creating things to order his world, likely influenced by his military parents, who pass that love for structure onto him: he messages with his father, who’s stationed overseas and sends him engineering puzzles to figure out; his mother, a major in the US Army, is working on her Ph.D. and is referred to as a “mad scientist” by Parker. Parker is an unrepentant bully who uses the fact that his father has his own blind spot when it comes to his son’s bullying, brushing aside repeated complaints and believing the thinnest of excuses while letting readers glimpse into a home life that may not be ideal for Parker, either. His father talks down to Bell’s mother on several occasions, and she needs to correct him about her rank in the Army on at least one occasion, noting that she outranks her husband.

Woven into this story is Bell’s interest in systems and creating, and bringing a great STEAM challenge into the plot. The Creator Club challenge for this school year is to recreate one of Leonardo DaVinci’s creations, DaVinci-era style. No Internet. No electricity. Working by candlelight and looking up information in books. It’s a great subplot about friendship, teamwork, and cooperation. There’s also some great references to The Wizard of Oz throughout the book – see how many you can find, and challenge your readers. The one question that came up for me multiple times throughout the reading: Who is the Tornado here? I don’t know about you, but I got a different answer each time I considered it.

Author Jake Burt’s website offers updates and more information about his books. John Schu has an interview with Jake Burt available at Watch.Connect.Read, and The Tornado has a starred review from School Library Journal.

 

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.
Posted in Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Spelled by Betsy Schow – an excerpt and a giveaway!

I recently reviewed Betsy Schow’s Wizard of Oz/fairy tale mashup, Spelled – now, you’ve got the chance to win your own copy, courtesy of Sourcebooks! Check out the excerpt below, and make sure to enter to win!

 SPELLED

Spelled, By Betsy Schow

Sourcebooks Fire

June 2, 2015

Advance Praise for Spelled

“A cute adventure with romance set in a world full of fairy-tale mash-ups. Readers will love Dorthea’s evolution from spoiled princess to strong, confident heroine… For Oz fans, this work is a great clean-read alternative to Danielle Paige’s Dorothy Must Die.” –School Library Journal

“This wickedly funny, fast-paced adventure has it all: brains, courage, and heart. (Plus a kickin’ pair of heels.) .” –Jen Calonita, author of The Secrets of My Hollywood Life and Fairy Tale Reform School series

“Fairy tale survival rule #1, do NOT read this book late at night. You will wake up your entire family with loud laughter. Fairy tale survival rule #2, if you love the Wizard of Oz, clever fairy tale mash-ups, and enough twists and turns to keep you guessing what will happen until the very end, you MUST read Spelled.” –J Scott Savage, award winning author of Farworld, Case File 13, and the Mysteries of Cove series.

A hilarious and snarky reimagining of the world of Oz, along with many other fairy tales injected throughout, “Spelled” is one fabulous read…Kick off those silver slippers and tuck in with this wonderful tale!” —Senator Sipes, Lil Book Bug (Palmdale, CA)

Book Info:

Talk about unhappily ever after. Dorthea is completely princed out. Sure being the crown princess of Emerald has its perks—like Glenda Original ball gowns and Hans Christian Louboutin heels. But a forced marriage to the not-so-charming prince Kato is so not what Dorthea had in mind for her enchanted future.

Trying to fix her prince problem by wishing on a (cursed) star royally backfires, leaving Dorthea with hair made up of emerald flames and the kingdom in chaos. Her parents and everyone she loves are stuck in some place called “Kansas.” Now it’s up to Dorthea and her pixed-off prince to find the mysterious Wizard of Oz and undo the curse…before it releases the wickedest witch of all and spells The End for the world of Story.

Amazon | B&N | BAM | !ndigo | IndieBound | Kindle |  Nook

Betsy Schow:

Betsy Schow is the author of the memoir Finished Being Fat, and has been featured on The Today Show and in The Wall Street Journal. She lives in Utah, but travels the country with Color Me Rad 5k, and partners with nonprofits to teach kids creative thinking and how to reach their goals.

Website| Twitter

Excerpt from Spelled:

Most of the crowd had dispersed. The final few stragglers looked at me with the all­ too-common look of fear mixed with trepidation. Pix ’em. They were just servants. It wasn’t like their opinion mattered.

Only one remained, watching me with open curiosity. He looked to be in his late teens or was magically enhanced to appear so. He could have been a hundred for all I knew. I’d never seen him before in my life. He was handsome enough, for a commoner, even in his worn leather pants and cracked work boots. A foreigner, his hair was unruly and dark auburn, which complemented his tanned but dirt-smudged complexion, though the tall, dark stranger vibe was ruined by his piercing pale blue eyes.

Well, I’d had enough of being a sideshow for the day. “If you’re the new gardener, the hedges are overgrown and in need of a trim.” I pointed in the direction of my father. “While you’re there, you can help the king with the wisps.”

The young man’s expression clouded over, but he didn’t move.

I stamped my foot and pointed more forcefully. “Off with you. Courtyard’s that way. Be sure to clean those awful boots before coming back in.”

“Someone told me I’d find a princess of great worth here. One with the strength to be the hero this realm needs.” He stared at me with those unsettling blue eyes. They were cold, like ice water—made me shiver from head to toe. Then his gaze seemed to search even deeper. Finally, he looked through me, like I was nothing.

In brisk steps, he strode across the marble to the courtyard. But before crossing the threshold, he turned back to glare at me with his lip curled ever so slightly. “It seems she was mistaken.”

Just like that, I had been sifted, weighed, and found wanting.

I felt my own lip curl in response. How rude! Who the Grimm was this peasant to judge me? I was wearing a Glenda original. Original! Not some fairy-godmother knockoff worn by those servant girls turned royal. I was a crown princess, for the love of fairy, and no one dismissed me.

Before I could put the boy in his place—down in the dirt, where he belonged—a clatter came from behind, making me nearly jump out of my shoes. I checked and was relieved that Sterling had simply dropped his sword. By the time I looked back, the gardener was gone.

After stowing his blade, Sterling held up his shield, not in defense of the entrance but so he could look at his reflection. “Clearly he’s blind and doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

I didn’t ask for Sterling’s opinion, but it made me feel better.

Until he opened his mouth again.

“Worth, pffft. I mean, look around at all the jewels. Your palace has everything you could ever want. Honestly, I don’t know what you’re fussing about. Why would anyone want to leave?”

Because a cage is still a cage, no matter how big or glittering the bars are.

And I would find a way free, no matter the cost.

Enter the Rafflecopter giveaway for your chance at a copy of Spelled!

Posted in Fantasy, Teen

Spelled: A Fairy Tale/Wizard of Oz Mash-Up!

SPELLEDSpelled, by Betsy Schow (June 2015, Sourcebooks Fire), $9.99, ISBN: 9781492608714

Recommended for ages 13+

Spoiled princess Dorothea has it all – including a family curse that requires she, like all the women in her family, never leave the castle. That all changes the night she tries to get out of a royal matchmaking by making a wish that undoes the fabric of the land. Now, her parents are missing and she finds herself hunted by Griz, a wicked old witch; she’s on the road with Kato, her almost-fiancé-turned-chimera, and a grouchy kleptomaniac lady in waiting named Rexie. Can they find their way to the Wizard before Griz and her magic henchfolk get hold of her?

This book is a mashup that’s influenced by, but not a retelling of, Frank L. Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, with a splash of Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass to keep the story moving. It’s a fun take on the spoiled princess grows up concept, set in a kind of parallel Oz. There’s a lot going on here, and plotlines can become a little confusing. There’s a lack of depth to the characters, especially for a story that’s relying only on a basic recognition of established characters – this could be on purpose, as the ending leaves no question as to whether there will be a sequel.

Fans of the current young adult fairy tale mashups trend will get a kick out of this book.