Tuesday, June 5, 2018

The Summer of Jordi Perez

This book is just what I wanted to kick off summer: a light, fun romance with enough meat on its bones to keep it interesting and great characters. I would definitely recommend starting this season with The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding. I mean, just look at that bright rainbow cover and you know what a fun book you're getting into.

When Abby scores the fashion internship of her dreams at a boutique store near her home, she's determined to do a good job. She's heard that this summer internship usually leads to a part-time paid position in the fall and Abby is determined to get the job and start her career in fashion. She has no idea she's going to meet the girl of her dreams, fellow intern Jordi Perez. Abby goes to school with Jordi and rumors fly about how Jordi committed arson and went to Juvie, but all Abby can think about is how good it feels to earn a rare Jordi smile. Oh, and the fact that they're competing against each other to earn the fall job.

And Abby's got abundant free time to obsess over Jordi since her best friend is newly in a relationship and her older sister is not coming home for the summer for the first time ever. Luckily, a new unlikely friend, lacrosse-playing Jax, recruits Abby for a quest to find the best burger in Los Angeles. And Jax is a ready sounding board for Abby's pursuit of her crush. 

The combination of summer romance, a quest for burgers, and Abby's passion for fashion made this a really fun read that's perfect for light summer reading. I really appreciate Abby's body positive attitude - she's defined vaguely as "plus sized" - and her quest to enjoy and promote fashion fun at all sizes. I also think this was a very realistic portrayal of a bigger girl being body positive but also being unsure about some things. Abby doesn't love having her photo taken and refuses to post her own photo on her fashion blog. She's self-conscious about being in a swimsuit, even just with her friends. Even though Abby's on the path to body acceptance and she's an advocate for enjoying fashion at any size, she's still got her hangups and that's very realistic.

This is a light romance without a lot of physical action, so a good choice for teens who like romance but don't want graphic physical scenes. Hand it to teen romance fans looking for a breezy, fun summer read.


Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour is another teen lesbian romance that has a similar light, romantic tone and gives a peek into the world of film production much like Jordi gives a peek into the world of boutique fashion.

I Believe in a Thing Called Love by Maurene Goo is another light teen romance with an upbeat, breezy tone and that doesn't have a lot of physical romance.

Book info: 

The Summer of Jordi Perez (And the Best Burger in Los Angeles) by Amy Spalding. Grades 7+ Sky Pony Press, April 2018. 224 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Thursday, May 31, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay Wrap Up

It's been a blast concentrating on reading middle grade books this month. Now that I'm not a youth specialist anymore, it's easy to let that reading slip as I'm concentrating on building up my skills in other areas of collection development and reader's advisory. I read some great books this month and had a lot of fun recording some video booktalks to highlight books to go along with Akoss's weekly themes.

I read a lot of the books from the TBR pile that I started with, but not all of them. And I ended up picking up some other titles as I was inspired to throughout the month. I did a lot of reviewing, as you may have noticed, and it was great to get back in the habit of writing in depth about what I'm reading.

Here are the middle grade books I read this month (some pictured above):
And speaking of middle grade... are you following Heavy Medal, SLJ's Mock Newbery blog? Usually they are quiet this time of year and pick up the discussion in the fall as we approach award season, but this year they're compiling suggestions of titles just like the actual committees do. I LOVE this not only because it gives a greater feel of what being on the actual committee is like, but because it gives all of us a head's up on what books we might want to pay attention to because they're getting award buzz. 

Each month, anyone can submit up to 4 suggestions of already-published eligible books and the Heavy Medal bloggers are compiling the suggestions, grouped by number of suggestions. So if you're wondering what middle grade to check out this year, books with multiple suggestions on their lists are good bets to be books people will be talking about. This is a great resource for collection development, too!

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora

Save the restaurant, save the world.

Okay, not really, but it feels that way to Arturo in The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya. Since before Arturo was born, his family has run their restaurant La Cocina de la Isla. La Cocina is a special place in a close-knit Latino neighborhood. Arturo's abuela knows every regular customer by name and it's a place where many in the community feel like family. Now, it's being threatened by a developer who wants to move in and build condos and destroy their neighborhood.

In addition to saving his restaurant, Arturo's trying to win over the girl of his dreams, his god-cousin Carmen who's come to visit for the summer after the death of her mom. She's into poetry and activism; how can Arturo get her attention? And he's starting his first kitchen job in the restaurant - not a prep chef like he'd imagined, but a dishwasher which is harder than it sounds!

It's a lot for one thirteen-year-old boy. Can Arturo make it work? Or will it all be an Epic Fail?

I don't know why I waited so long to pick up this book, but I'm so glad I did. It won a Pura Belpre honor, so that definitely tells you something. I fell in love with Arturo and his family and their neighborhood. This is a great story about the power of people to stand up to bigger, richer forces and defend their neighborhoods and their way of life. It introduces the concept of gentrification in a way that makes sense and really digs into the issues surrounding it. Arturo and the other kids in his family really take an active role, seeing the urgency in their situation even as others in his family want to pretend it's not happening to protect their ailing abuela from the devastating truth.

It's funny and it's serious, which is my favorite kind of contemporary story. I like to laugh AND cry.

I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author and it's great. Pablo Cartaya is an actor, which makes sense since he reads really well and does voices for the characters. Audiobook is a great way to experience this book if you, like me, don't always know how the Spanish words should be pronounced. Or if you're just looking for a fun listen. This would be a great family listen for families with tweens, too.

Hand this one to activism-minded kids or kids who like realistic stories about kids making a difference in their communities.


An oldie but a goodie: Hoot by Carl Hiaasen about a kid trying to save the burrowing owls in his Florida home from development, this is another book for kids who want to save the world.

The tone and characters of the book reminded me a lot of Gordon Korman, so maybe try Ungifted. And readers looking for stories about boys told with a mix of humor and serious subjects might like Ms. Bixby's Last Day by John David Anderson. 

For kids drawn to Arturo's experience in the kitchen and restaurant life, hand them All Four Stars by Tara Dairmen.

For kids looking for more stories about Latino families, try Enchanted Air by Margarita Engel, Stef Soto Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres, or Lucky Broken Girl by Ruth Behar.

The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya. Grades 5-9. Viking, 2017. 230 pages. Audiobook is 5 hours and 6 minutes. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Sunday, May 27, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay Week 5: Diverse Books!

Whew! What a month it has been! I don't know about you, but I have really cherished the time I spent this month dedicating my reading to middle grade books. I read more than I normally do and I read and blogged about some truly great books. Let's hope I can keep the momentum going as we head into summer. (My first summer in 10+ years that I will not be stressed out about the Summer Reading Program...)

Our final week of Middle Grade May 2018 is all about diverse books. Akoss asked us to talk about books that portray diversity in an uplifting way. I couldn't narrow it down this week, so I have six booktalks for you with some of my favorite recent diverse reads.

Books mentioned in this video:

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokski (Disney-Hyperion, 2018)

The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta (Scholastic, 2018)

Stef Soto, Taco Queen by Jennifer Torres (Little, Brown, 2017)

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste (Algonquin, 2015)

The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez (Viking, 2017)

Rebound by Kwame Alexander (Houghton Mifflin, 2018)

How'd your Middle Grade May go? Did you read some great middle grade books? I'd love to hear about them - let me know what you've been reading!

Thursday, May 24, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: Ghost Boys

You guys. This book. My heart. I just... This is one not to miss if you've got kids asking questions about social justice or things they've heard (or seen or experiences) about police violence. It's incredibly tough and beautiful, and it would make an excellent conversation starter.

Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes is narrated by Jerome. Jerome wasn't doing anything.

He was playing.
In his neighborhood.
With a toy guy his friend had given him.

Until he wasn't.
Until he was shot.
Until he died.

Now Jerome's stuck as a ghost. He desperately wants to move on; he doesn't want to see his family in pain. He doesn't want to see them moving on and living their lives without him. But Jerome, and all the ghosts of boys killed due to racial injustice, can't move on.

The first ghost that Jerome gets to know a bit is the ghost of Emmett Till who was killed in 1955. That's a lot of years for ghost boys to be waiting for change, for the world to get better so that there stop being more ghost boys.

This book absolutely broke my heart. It's a hard read. And it says such important things. It starts a conversation essential to have with middle schoolers.

The only character in the book who can see Jerome as a ghost is Sarah, the 12-year-old daughter of the police officer who killed Jerome. Not only does this show essential similarities between the two children - they're the same age, they're the same height even though Officer Moore describes Jerome as being massive and threatening - but it humanizes Officer Moore. He's a person. He made a terrible decision. He has a family. His daughter cares what happens to him. As Sarah learns more about the trial and hears corrections from Jerome about what went down that day, she has to figure out how she feels about her father and what she's going to do with those feelings.

Middle school kids who aren't ready for books like The Hate U Give or How It Went Down need this book. This is an essential purchase for library shelves. It deserves to be read widely and taught and discussed.


Readers looking for more moving stories of atrocities against people might try How I Became a Ghost by Tim Tingle, narrated by a Choctaw boy who does not survive the Trail of Tears.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: The Parker Inheritance

A great middle grade mystery story puts child heroes into the position where they are the only ones who can solve the mystery. Sometimes it's because they don't trust the adults in their lives enough to involve them. Sometimes it's because adults aren't present. And sometimes it's because the adults around think the mystery is a joke. The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson is one of the latter kind.

Candice is spending the summer in her late grandmother's house due to some complications with her separated parents and their house in Atlanta. When she meets Brandon, the boy across the street, and discovers that he loves reading almost as much as she does, she thinks she might have found a friend. And when she discovers a long-forgotten letter in her grandmother's attic, a letter that speaks of a fortune hidden in town awaiting the person who can solve the puzzle, she knows she and Brandon have to try to find it. Her grandmother tried and failed. But now Candice has another chance.

Everyone thought Candice's grandmother was crazy for pursuing the Parker Inheritance, and when she didn't find it, they forced her to resign from her position as City Manager. So of course everyone thinks that the fortune is a myth. And it's going to take two kids with the power to believe and the perseverance to solve the clues to figure it out.

Candice and Brandon begin to decipher the clues in the letter, a challenge that will lead them to research the town's history, racial injustice, forgotten heroes and a true love story. But can two kids do what no adults have been able to do in decades? Can they solve the mystery before time runs out and the answers fade back into the past?

Kids who like puzzle mysteries and solving riddles are going to eat this up. And it's a story with meat on its bones. As Candice and Brandon are researching, they discover a lot of unsavory stuff that happened to the African Americans who started the whole thing in the 1950s. They learn a lot about their families and their town and themselves as they try to piece together where the fortune came from and where it might be hidden.


Hand this one to kids who like puzzle mysteries. Then also hand them any or all of the following:

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin (Puffin, 1978). The original? fortune-hunting children's mystery story, this is still a classic beloved by many. Candice reads it in the book, a fitting homage.

The Emperor's Riddle by Kat Zhang (Aladdin, 2017). Take an armchair travel trip to China as Mia tries to find her aunt and maybe a fortune beyond imagination.

Under the Egg by Laura Marx Fitzgerald (Dial, 2014). This art history mystery will especially appeal to kids who like the historical and research themes in The Parker Inheritance.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson. Grades 4-8. Scholastic, 2018. 352 pages. ARC provided by publisher.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay Week 4: 2018 Debuts

This fourth week of #MiddleGradeMay is all about those debut authors and there have already been some FANTASTIC debut books coming out this year! I'm really excited to tell you about four of my favorites that have come out so far this year in the video below. (Do you like the videos I'm making? I am a totally newbie at YouTube, but I have been enjoying it.)

Books mentioned in this video:

Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Scholastic, May 2018) - comes out next week on May 29!

P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy (Feiwel and Friends, March 2018)

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (Little, Brown, March 2018)
Whoops - this is not actually a debut novel, but it is Blake's first middle grade novel and also I want you to know about it, so I'm leaving it in there!)

Like Vanessa by Tami Charles (Charlesbridge, March 2018)

These debuts are awesome! You should definitely check them out and I hope that we'll

Thursday, May 17, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: Be Prepared

I do not actually buy a lot of books. When you're a librarian, you don't always need to. We are surrounded by free books. But when I started updating our grade level book lists to get ready for Summer Reading, I was hearing a lot of buzz for this title and I wasn't going to be able to get a library copy in before I needed to have the updates done. So I bought it.

No regrets!!!!

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol gave me the feels. Like, so much that I actually had to put it down at one point and come back to it the next day. And I dreamed about summer camp.

Almost-10-year-old Vera is on the outside a lot. Although she gets invited to slumber parties with the other girls, she's never really part of the in-crowd. And when she tries to throw her own birthday slumber party, things go horribly awry. Vera always feels different than the other kids and part of that is because, as Russian immigrants, her family is different. Which is why, when Vera hears about a Russian culture summer camp sponsored by her church, she is desperate to go. All the kids in her neighborhood disappear to go to various camps in the summer and Vera's sure she's finally found a place where she will really fit in.

But camp is not at all what Vera expected. She's put into a tent with two girls who are best friends and who are much older than her. There's no running water, which means using a disgusting outhouse for two weeks, and Vera can't seem to do anything right. Having no friends at camp is even worse than having no friends at home because at home at least a bear's not going to eat you. And you have toilets.

This story is based on author Vera Brosgol's actual experiences and she definitely captures that feeling of being on the outside. What strikes me about this book is that it's so raw and real; Vera makes some bad decisions and some cruel decisions sometimes. Even though she knows how it feels to be the odd one out, she still is sometimes mean to some of the other kids. When you're growing up and you're figuring things out, you don't always make the right decisions and Brosgol doesn't shy away from that.

Camp is made out to be this idyllic experience that everyone looks back on with nostalgia and longing. And it's not that way for everyone! I was one of those kids who went to camp and did not have an amazing time. I had a fine time, it wasn't torture every minutes, but given the choice I did not elect to go back. So I definitely identified with Vera.

So, yes. Go get this book. Add it to your Summer Reading lists. I think it'll be a hit with kids.


This is another great entry into the Children's Graphic Novel Memoir category, so kids who enjoy books like Raina Telgemeier's Smile, Jennifer Holm's Sunny Side Up or Cece Bell's El Deafo will also enjoy this one.

Don't miss Vera Brosgol's fiction graphic novel Anya's Ghost, which is also great.

Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol. Grades 4-7. First Second, April 2018. 256 pages. Review copy purchased (!!).

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: Blackbird Fly

Here's a backlist title for #MiddleGradeMay and I'm kicking myself because it took me so long to pick it up. I've recently read Erin Entrada Kelly's latest book and it made me want to go back and pick up the one that I missed. Blackbird Fly (Greenwillow, 2015) is a favorite booktalk title of one of my school booktalk partners and I can definitely see why! This is a raw and realistic portrayal of middle school bullying.

The Dog Log.

Apple is on the Dog Log, a list of the ugliest girls in school that the boys come up with each year. Apple knew she didn't have many friends and the popular kids sometimes said mean stuff to her, like calling her a dog-eater because she is Filipino. But to be on the Dog Log? There's no coming back from that. Apple's plan is to get a guitar, learn how to play all her favorite Beatles songs, and then run away to become a street musician and ditch this middle school life forever.

Unless... When a new kid shows up at school, a kid who knows nothing about the Dog Log, maybe he'll go with Apple to the Halloween dance. And then maybe she won't seem like such a hopeless loser. As Apple gets to know Evan, she realizes he's very different from the kids she thought were her friends. He doesn't seem to care what people think. He's interested in her Filipino culture. And he might be able to help her turn everything around.

As I was reading this, I kept thinking about Blubber by Judy Blume, which I know is a dated reference from my own childhood. But that's the level of meanness going on here, more heartbreaking because I know it happens in schools every day. Apple feels trapped, stuck with "friends" who are mean to her because it's better to be with someone who makes fun of you than to be alone.

Music is a savior and a healing agent here. Apple listens to her Beatles albums over and over again. The Beatles are a connection to her dad who died in the Philippines and they are a bridge to her future. Apple envisions a future writing and performing songs, even as her mom refuses to support her, saying that she won't make any money or get a good job by studying music. As we go through the story, music starts bringing people together.

This is a powerful story that will speak to victims of bullying and it's one that you should definitely have in your RA repertoire for when that question comes up.


Hand this to kids who like Wonder by R.J. Palaccio but don't mind a rather more bleak outlook. Kelly's latest novel You Go First would also make a good readalike with a similar tone and outlook on middle school life and how kids who are different are treated.

Readers interested in the musical aspects of the book should definitely check out Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia (Amistad, 2017), which has a similar theme of a talented musical kid whose parent doesn't approve of his plans to be a musician. Other musical novels that might be of interest include A Crooked Kind of Perfect by Linda Urban (Scholastic, Houghton Mifflin, 2007) and Amina's Voice by Hena Khan (Simon & Schuster, 2017).

Readers interested in more books about kids figuring out their identities might also like Listen, Slowly by Thanhha Lai (HarperCollins, 2015) or The Blossoming Universe of Violet Diamond by Brenda Woods (Nancy Paulsen, 2014).

Blackbird Fly by Erin Entrada Kelly. Grades 5-8. Greenwillow, 2015. 296 pages. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Sunday, May 13, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay Week 3: Underrated Middle Grade

It's the third week of #MiddleGradeMay and we're almost halfway through the month. I hope you've found some awesome middle grade lit to read this month! The theme set by our Booktuber host Akoss for this week is Underrated Middle Grade, meaning books that have less than 1000 ratings on GoodReads. I have three of my favorite underrated books for you today in this week's video:

Books mentioned in this video:

The Emperor's Riddle by Kat Zhang (Aladdin, 2017).

The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtald (Feiwel & Friends, 2015).

(Second Buckle & Squash book is The Gigantic Giant Goof-Up)

Unidentified Suburban Object by Mike Jung (Scholastic, 2016).

I was a little surprised at some of my favorite titles that have less than 1000 ratings on GoodReads once I started looking at it. You might be surprised, too! What are some of YOUR favorites that you wish more people would read?