Wednesday, January 20, 2021

A Game of Fox and Squirrels

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A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese. Grades 5-8. Henry Holt, 2020. 224 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Eleven-year-old Sam and her older sister Caitlin have just arrived in Oregon to stay with their aunt and her wife after an incident shattered their family in California. Sam misses her parents and is desperate to get back to her life in LA and start school with all her friends. She knows things weren't always the best with her family, but she was managing fine, thank you, and she doesn't want to be here in Oregon. 

So when a talking fox appears to her with a deal, Sam agrees. She'll do what the fox asks in order to earn the Golden Acorn that will grant her one wish - a wish for things to go back to how they were before. But somehow the rules keep changing and Sam will have to figure out how far she will go to please the fox and what she is willing to sacrifice. 

This is a dark magical tale about a girl navigating life with a foster family after being removed from her abusive home. Sam's game with the fox and his squirrel emissaries mirrors the game she played for years with her abusive father. She never know when the rules will change or what will set him off or what she might have to sacrifice next. This isn't an easy read, but it's a powerful read and could be a necessary read for some. I don't have a ton of knowledge about foster kids, but I have a little bit and what I read rings true with my experiences (such as they are). 


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Pair this with another stellar book that came out this year, Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, which offers a similarly searing, but realistic take on abuse and foster care life.  

Monday, January 18, 2021

ACPL's (Virtual!) Mock Newbery

 Last year, I had the immense pleasure to travel to Fort Wayne, Indiana (about a 4 hour trek from my home in Southern Indiana) to attend the Allen County Public Library's Mock Newbery discussion. I had been one time before and it's always been a really great program. It's such a fun experience to get together with like-minded book lovers and talk in depth about some of the best books of the year. 

This year, due to COVID, the discussion is taking place virtually, mirroring the work the actual committees are doing right this very moment. I'm very excited that I get to take part in the discussion once again and I'm really excited to see how the discussion will work virtually. 

These are the titles that we'll be discussion on Saturday afternoon this year with links to any that I've blogged about. I have some personal favorites that I'll be discussing a bit on Wednesday, and I'd love to know your top contenders for the Youth Media Awards!

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All He Knew by Helen Frost (Indiana author!)

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Before the Ever After by Jacqueline Woodson

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Black is a Rainbow Color by Angela Joy

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Black Brother, Black Brother by Jewell Parker Rhodes

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The Blackbird Girls by Anne Blankman

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Box: Henry Brown Mails Himself to Freedom by Carole Boston Weatherford 

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Echo Mountain by Lauren Wolk

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Fighting Words by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

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A Game of Fox and Squirrels by Jenn Reese

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Go With the Flow by Karen Schneemann & Lily Williams

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Kent State by Deborah Wiles

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The List of Things That Will Not Change by Rebecca Stead

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Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park

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Show Me a Sign by Anne Clare LeZotte

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Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

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The Summer We Found the Baby by Amy Hest

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Ways to Make Sunshine by Renee Watson

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When Stars are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

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When You Trap a Tiger by Tae Keller

Friday, January 15, 2021

The Light in Hidden Places

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The Light in Hidden Places by Sharon Cameron. Grades 7+ Scholastic, 2020. 400 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

If someone needed your help, would you give it? Even if it could cost you your life? Stefania Podg├│rska was a teenager when she started hiding Jews in her tiny apartment in Poland during WWII. It started with a close friend and as more and more people needed her help, she ended up with 13 Jews hiding in her attic. It was a life or death situation for them and a life or death situation for Stefania - she would be shot by  the Gestapo if anyone ever found out. She worked night and day to keep everyone fed and safe. And then the Nazis showed up at her door and commandeered her apartment. Two Nazi nurses who worked at the hospital across the street were moving in to her second bedroom. Stefania had no choice, she had to let them stay there. And she had to hope that they never discovered the 13 Jews living right above their heads. 

This absorbing historical novel is based on a true story about a real woman and it was Reese Witherspoon's December YA book club pick. It is definitely a fascinating story and if you love historical fiction that you can really sink your teeth into, this is a great one to pick up. It takes place over a number of years during WWII as Stefania moves to the city from her family farm and starts working for a Jewish family running a shop. As the war moves in and her employers find themselves in increasing danger, Stefania has to grow up quick and make a lot of decisions about what she will do. The hook in this booktalk doesn't happen until about three quarters of the way through, but I was so interested and invested in Stefania's story that I found myself completely absorbed. 

Author Sharon Cameron has done her research and includes a section at the end with photos of the real Stefania and information about what happened to her and her family after the war. This is a story about a little-known hero of WWII that needed to be told. It's teen, appropriate for middle school and up, and has a ton of adult crossover appeal. I added a short booktalk of this title to my Wowbrary email this week and it immediately got 5 new holds, even though it's not a new book. 


Pick this one up if you've enjoyed immersive historical fiction like The Book Thief by Markus Zusak or The Girl in the Blue Coat by Monica Hesse. 

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Reading Resolutions

 Happy 2021! It's definitely a year like no other. Maybe you feel like this is a year to give yourself some grace and take it easy. Maybe you feel optimistic about changes you want to make. Are you planning on making some reading resolutions this year? 

As you can see, I'm already late to the game, but part of my plan for the year is to practice grace for myself. If 2020 taught me anything it's that being uber-focused on productivity and optimization is not the best. Sometimes you need some space to take a breath, to rest, to refocus, or just to get through your day.

That said, I do have some reading goals for myself this year, and I'm curious what yours are (if you have any - it's totally fine if you do not!). 

But first... deep breath and let's look back at last year's reading resolutions...

40% of the books I read will be own-voices by diverse authors. 

Okay, as far as I tracked, I read 122 books by diverse authors, which is only about 23%. Part of this resolution was to be more intentional about tracking and I absolutely did not do that. If I had tracked and checked on myself each month like I had intended, I bet I would have done better with this.

500 books read and tracked on GoodReads this year.

Yes! I did this! I started tracking picture books to help with my NoveList work and even though I got super way behind in the spring, I caught back up by the end of the year and finished with 529 books tracked in GoodReads. 

Continue my romance project for another year. 

Okay, I did read nine romance books in 2020, most of them romcoms. I did not do anything to track them or log them or really review them (outside GoodReads), but I read a bunch of books I really enjoyed. I'm calling that success. And I may revisit the romance project in 2021. 

Read at least two pre-pub titles each month. 

Hahahaha, no way. I've been really bad at this. I absolutely did not make this goal. I miiiight have read 24 pre-pub titles over the course of the year, but honestly probably not. 

So, let's look ahead to 2021 (as scared as we might be about that...)

My biggest thing this year is giving myself grace. I realized what it's like to live through trauma this year (very privileged trauma, yes). And although I love reading, it's not important enough to be something to stress out about. I'm going to set some goals for myself because I like to have projects to work on, but I also have some non-reading projects going on this year and we're striving for balance and reasonable expectations. I have already hit library book bankruptcy where I just return ALL my checked out books and start over with a clean slate once this year. 

Read more teen books

Now that I have turned over adult collection responsibilities to my new collection development librarian, I can let myself more fully concentrate on youth materials. And one area that I know I need to step it up is teen literature. According to GoodReads, I read 28 teen books in 2020 and I'd like to do better this year. Let's try to read at least 36 teen books in 2021

Try the Read Native Challenge from the American Indian Library Association

It's been a minute since I attempted a reading challenge that gives specific categories for titles, but when I saw this one pop up, I wanted to give it a try. It dovetails with my always-goal to read diversely and I've been trying to add more Native writers into my reading life over the past few years. I'm not sure if I'll be able to complete the adult challenge with adult titles, so I may shoot for some kind of hybrid or use the adult challenge prompts but with teen and children's titles. I'm sure I won't be eligible for any prizes, but that's okay since I have intrinsic motivation for wanting to do this challenge. 

Read and track at least 500 books in GoodReads again. 

I did find tracking picture books and logging everything in GoodReads to be helpful. It was surprisingly helpful when I went to compose my 12 Days of Giving book lists this year. So I think that's a good goal and my hope is that I will easily be able to hit 500 books logged (including lots of picture books!). Of course, that's counting on no trauma-inducing shut-down work-from-home months to put me behind again. WE'LL SEE. 

And other areas that I may not make "official" goals, but you may see some blog posts about this year... I have enjoyed reading romance and I'm going to embrace that and encourage it. You may see some romance project updates from me this year since I think that would be fun. And one of my non-reading goals is to cook 50 new recipes this year, so of course I started out the year by checking out a ton of cookbooks. It might be fun to blog about some of the cookbooks I'm discovering and trying out. No promises, but maybe! 

And that's it for 2021 Reading Resolutions. How about you? Are you setting any reading resolutions? Or even just casual goals for yourself (if resolutions maybe feel like a bit much coming off of 2020)? 

Monday, December 21, 2020

Happy Merry!

I'm not gonna lie, one of the nicest things about having a more "behind the scenes" job is being able to schedule time off basically whenever I want. There are a lot of things I miss about being a front-lines children's librarian, but having to work at least part of every Christmas or New Years due to winter break coverage and allowing my staff time for vacations is NOT one of the things I miss. 

So I take advantage of that most years now and I'm currently off work until January 4. Honestly, for us it's a good time of year to be off as our business office is busily closing up the books, lots of my vendor contacts are also home with their families, and our ordering is paused until next year anyway. 

Of course, I'll be working here and there on committee work and side-gig stuff, but I'm also trying to take some time to relax and unwind. The next two weeks I'll be playing Animal Crossing, reading books, probably doing some writing, hopefully cleaning out some closets and dressers, doing lots of cooking, and just generally puttering around. 

I hope you have a holiday season as happy and restful as can possibly be expected and I'll see you here around the new year to talk about some reading resolutions. 

Friday, December 18, 2020

The Alphabet's Alphabet

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The Alphabet's Alphabet by Chris Harris, illustrated by Dan Santat. Ages 5-8. Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, 2020. Review copy provided by my local library. 

This is not your toddler's alphabet book. Designed for an older set who are already familiar and comfortable with letter shapes, this book plays with how letters can look like other letters, imagining creative ways to connect them. In rhyming text, the book goes through every letter of the alphabet, explaining how it's related to another letter. Dan Santat's bright, expressive artwork really brings this book to life and makes it so much fun. 

Most of these connections are super clever and readers could easily imagine them even without the illustrations to guide them "A B is a D with its belt on too tight" Some depend more heavily on the illustrations, like "An R is a K with a mask where its face is", which shows a K wrestler wearing a luchador mask that covers the top part of its "head". Overall, this book is really great fun and kids will enjoy puzzling out the shapes of each of the letters and then coming up with their own ideas for connecting different letters. While I think kids already comfortable with letters will get the most out of this book on their own, it might be fun to read it with younger children and help them see the different letter shapes in the illustrations.

I would hand this to elementary age picture book readers who enjoy other books that play around with letters like E-Mergency by Tom Lichtenheld, Al Pha's Bet by Amy Kraus Rosenthal or Every Little Letter by Deborah Underwood. 

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

#LibFaves20, Reading Challenges, and Other Goings On

 It's a wonderful time of year - the time to celebrate all the amazing books that have come out over the past year and look forward to what next year's reading will bring. 

One thing that's been bringing me joy this past week is the annual LibFaves voting on Twitter. Follow the hashtag #LibFaves20 to see library workers' top 10 books of 2020. Since December 7, library workers have been shouting about one book a day with volunteer tabulators keeping tallies of the titles that have been mentioned. While it's centered on adult books, some folks are including YA and children's books, too. 

I'm eagerly following the hashtag because I have two Audible credits I need to use in the next month and I'm in need of great audiobooks to motivate my morning runs in the cold, so I'm keeping my eyes on what everyone is loving best this year. The fully tabulated list will be posted on EarlyWord when it's ready, so keep a look out for that! 

Another wonderful thing about this time of year is that the 2021 book challenges are starting to come out. I haven't participated in a book challenge in awhile and I doubt that 2021 will be the year for me. But I still love to see the prompts and challenges that others are undertaking. Do your patrons know about and participate in reading challenges? This might be a fun thing to share with them, especially this year when everyone's looking for socially distanced things to do. Challenges I love to spy on are: 

I have a January blog post for our staff blog devoted to highlighting some reading challenges because I think some of our patrons might enjoy them. Reading challenges might not be on their radars, so I like to spread the word. 

And it's not reeeeally a challenge (although it does have challenge elements this year!), but Everyday Reading's printable 2021 Reading Log was just released this week. If I could picture a place in my house where I could spread this out and color it (and if I could picture myself actually devoting time to keeping up with it), I would be ordering a large print of this gorgeous reading log. If you're in need of some stress relief coloring, I highly recommend checking it out! I'm almost convincing myself to give it a shot here. Maybe. 

Also not really a "challenge", but another exciting reading thing happening right now is all  the Mock Newbery discussions. I won't say I'm HAPPY about this because I hate the reasons behind it, but my favorite Mock Newbery run by the Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne is going virtual this year on Zoom. It's 4 hours away from me, so I wasn't going to make it in person this year, but once they pivoted to virtual, I signed myself up. I'm approaching it with excitement and anxiety - what will a Zoom book discussion look like?! I guess we'll find out! And will I be able to finish (and reread?) all the books before our meeting? I'm going to give it my very best shot. 

School Library Journal's Heavy Medal Blog is also going with full force this year. Now's the time to be reading those 2020 books to be prepared to make ALL THE COMMENTS during the Youth Media Awards webcast on Monday, January 25. 

Are you following any Mock Awards this year? Are there any 

Monday, December 14, 2020

Shirley and Jamila Save Their Summer

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Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz. Grades 4-7. Dial, 2020. 224 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Jamila's pretty sure that her summer is ruined. Her mom wants to send her to camp, but all Jamila wants to do is shoot hoops. When Jamila meets Shirley at a neighborhood yard sale, the girls strike up a tentative friendship and convince both their mothers to let them hang out together this summer. Jamila will get all the time she wants at the b-ball court, she just has to hang out with Shirley, who is nice, even if she's a bit odd. 

When a neighborhood kid shows up asking for Shirley's help in finding his missing pet gecko, Shirley is on the case and Jamila finds herself helping, too. But when Shirley starts taking the case too seriously and their new partnership hits a rough patch, Jamila's not sure that their new deal is working out.

Enola Holmes meets Shannon Hale in this graphic novel mystery that will please detective fans as well as fans of contemporary friendship stories. Shirley is a Sherlock-Holmes-ian detective and kids will enjoy looking for clues and learning about how she solves her cases. Middle grade readers will also relate to the girls' struggle to figure out a new friendship. I really enjoyed getting to know both characters and the realistic Toronto setting. 

Friday, December 11, 2020


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Twins by Varian Johnson and Shannon Wright. Grades 3-6. Scholastic, 2020. 256 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Twins Maureen and Francine have always done everything together, but now they're starting middle school and they don't have one class together. Shy Maureen has trouble standing up for herself and making her voice heard and without her sister by her side, she's feeling lost as she navigates the all-new waters of sixth grade. Who will she eat lunch with? How will she survive Cadet Corp when she can't figure out the marching formations? 

When Maureen discovers that Francine asked their parents to put them in separate classes and that her parents requested she be placed in Cadet Corp to help build her self-confidence, she feels betrayed by her entire family. In a fit of rage, she signs up to run against Francine for sixth grade president. At first she enters the race just because she feels angry, but as she works on her platform she begins to feel like she can make a difference at her school. But how can shy Maureen win against charismatic Francine? And does she have the strength to make her voice heard, even if it shakes?

I loved this relateable own-voices graphic novel and I think it has high appeal to readers of realistic contemporary comics. Call your fans of Raina Telgemeier or Terri Libenson because they're going to want to check this one out, too. Lots of kids have trouble adjusting to middle school, so readers who are going through their own friendship or self-confidence struggles will identify with Maureen's story. 

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

A Place at the Table

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A Place at the Table by Saadia Faruqi & Laura Shovan. Grades 4-7. Clarion Books, 2020. 336 pages. Review copy provided by publisher. 

Calling all young chefs! This is a really sweet, contemporary story about two very different middle school girls who meet at an after-school cooking club and become friends due to their shared love of cooking. 

Sara is new at school, having attended a local Muslim school up through fifth grade. She's not happy about switching schools and some of the kids are giving her a tough time because she's not white. She's not thrilled about having to tag along to the after school cooking classes her mom has started teaching, but there's nowhere else for her to go, so she sits in the back. But when fellow sixth grader Elizabeth needs a partner, Sara steps out from the shadows and joins her at her table. 

Elizabeth is struggling at home. After the death of her grandmother in England, her mom has been really depressed and that means that a lot of stuff around the house - including cooking - is not getting done. So Elizabeth joined this cooking class, hoping to learn some recipes to help out at home. While some of the kids in the class object to the Pakistani food that Sara's mom is teaching them, Elizabeth loves it. And when she learns that Sara's mom is studying for the American citizenship test just like her own British mom, Elizabeth is inspired to match up their moms. Maybe having a study buddy will help her mom take the test seriously and making a friend might keep her from wanting to move back to England. 

This book hits all the sweet spots in a realistic contemporary friendship story. It reminded me so much of the books I loved to read as a kid. It's mostly about the budding friendship between Sara and Elizabeth and how both of them grow as they get to know each other, but it tackles some tough topics like mental health and racism within the story. It's written with own-voices cultural details about both Sara's Pakistani-American household and Elizabeth's Jewish household. Both Sara and Elizabeth learn a lot from each other, not the least of which is to stand up for each other and what being an ally really means. 

And since the book is set in a cooking class, of course it contains lots of yummy details about the recipes they learn to make and the experimentation the friends undertake to develop a fusion recipe for a contest. It definitely made me hungry while I was reading and I think kids who are into cooking and baking would really enjoy this aspect of the story. 

Hand to young foodies who enjoy contemporary friendship stories. 


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All Four Stars by Tara Dairman (Penguin, 2014). Young foodies will enjoy both books about tween girls who are rock stars in the kitchen. 

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Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan (Scholastic, 2016). This book, which is also told in alternating voices and written by own-voices authors, is about two culturally diverse boys who become unlikely friends when they're united against the same bully. Readers who enjoy stories about two very different kids finding common ground and becoming friends may like this one, too.