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.

Readalikes:

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.

Readalikes:

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.

Readalikes:

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.

Readalikes:

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?

Thursday, May 10, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World

Crushes. Remember how confusing it was to figure out crushes? Maybe you had them and didn't know how to talk about it. Maybe your friends had them and suddenly could talk about nothing else. Maybe you had a crush that seemed like it was "wrong". Maybe you never had any crushes and wondered why everyone else seemed to. Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to the World by Ashley Herring Blake (Little, Brown, 2018) is a great book about first crushes and that unique ache that middle school love can bring.

There's been a lot changing recently in Ivy's life: Ivy's mom had twin boys, Ivy's suddenly feeling a rift between her and her older sister, Ivy's feeling like she doesn't matter very much to her family. And there's this big thing that she can't tell anyone, not her mom, not her sister, not her best friend. Ivy's never had a crush, but when she imagines herself having a crush, she imagines it with a girl. She doesn't know any other girls or women who have relationships with other girls or women. She knows that girls her age are supposed to like boys. And... she doesn't. So she keeps it to herself, letting her art journal be her only outlet for her feelings.

At the beginning of the book, a tornado descends upon her rural Georgia town and destroys Ivy's house. Her family escapes with their lives, but not much else. And suddenly Ivy's life is truly thrown into tumult. In the aftermath of the storm, June, a girl from Ivy's class, shows up with her doctor mom to help victims of the storm. And suddenly Ivy's imagined crush has a name.

But what do you do about a crush that's such a big secret you can't tell ANYONE? And what do you do if you're not sure and if making a decision about who you like might change your life forever?

Can I tell you that I am so glad that middle grade LGBTQ lit is blossoming? There have been a handful of great titles published over the past couple of years and I'm so excited to purchase it and put it on my library's shelves to reflect our diverse community. These books are so needed. As mentioned by this book's editor in a forward note in the galley, middle grade is when many kids start identifying their preferences with regards to relationships. As gatekeepers, we need to be certain that we're providing mirrors to all kinds of different experiences. And when it's a great, moving story with unforgettable characters, that's just all the more reason to put Ivy Aberdeen on our library shelves.

Ivy's a great tween character, dealing with being stuck in the middle of her family and being stuck in that "tween" place - no longer a child, not yet an adult. She's thoughtful and sensitive and wants to help more than anything, but she's afraid that her family sees her as a bother, a burden when they have so much else going on. I love the use of the physical storm as a catalyst to the story that represents the emotional storm going on within Ivy's mind. And Ivy's pain and confusion is palpable as she tries to navigate after the storm, feeling unsure not only about her place in her family (the unwanted middle child), but about her place in society.

Readers who look for stories about the tween experience or stories about first crushes will find much to love in Ivy.

Readalikes:

There have been some great LGBTQ middle grade novels that have come out in the past couple of years. Readers looking for more lesbian or questioning characters should pick up P.S. I Miss You by Jen Petro-Roy and Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee.

Readers who want additional realistic books that really GET how it feels to be a tween might enjoy P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia.

And readers looking for more middle grade books about exploring first crushes might like Shug by Jenny Han.

Ivy Aberdeen's Letter to  the World by Ashley Herring Blake. Grades 5-8. Little, Brown, 2018. 320 pages. Reviewed from ARC snagged at ALA Midwinter.

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: You Go First

Well. Erin Entrada Kelly's done it again. She is a master of that particular ache that comes from middle school. In You Go First (Greenwillow, 2018), we meet two characters separated by 1200 miles. Charlotte and Ben are friends who've never met in real life. They play online Scrabble against each other and battle it out for first place on the leaderboard. Online, each of them can present the persona they want to. They could be kids who have nicknames, kids who are about to be elected student council president, kids who have friends...

But real life is different. Both Charlotte (Philadelphia) and Ben (Louisiana)  find themselves alone. Charlotte's discovering that her best friend is moving on to a different group of girls. Ben has always been a loner. And both of them are dealing with big life changes. Charlotte's dad is in the hospital after having a heart attack and Charlotte's ridden with guilt over how they've been growing apart. Ben's parents just told him they're getting a divorce, his home life will never be the same.

Over the course of a week and many narrative turns back and forth (mimicking the turns taken at Scrabble), Charlotte and Ben will come to depend on each other much more than they ever had before. With no one else to turn to, they turn to each other as they start to navigate the muddled, confusing waters of middle school.

Oh, this one got me in the feels. It's not overtly heartbreaking, but it's heartbreaking in its way of describing exactly how it feels to be in middle school and be totally flummoxed by how others are acting. The small (and big) actions of the other kids are so cruel, but so commonplace. As I was reading, my heart ached for these small, confused kids just beginning to grow up.

Erin Entrada Kelly is a master of showing her characters rather than telling you all about them. Sometimes the things she leaves out are even more important than the things she leaves in, letting readers discover Ben and Charlotte as they read the novel. This book reminded me so much of the Judy Blume books I read as a kid - books I read when I wanted to meet characters like me dealing with middle school life.

Readalikes:

This is a great followup to Kelly's Newbery-winning Hello, Universe (Greenwillow, 2017). Readers who loved her character development in that book will find much to love in You Go First.

The tone of the book reminded me a lot of Goodbye, Stranger by Rebecca Stead (Wendy Lamb, 2015), which is another character-driven book that explores middle school through the eyes of several characters.

You Go First by Erin Entrada Kelly. Grades 4-7. Greenwillow, 2018. 304 pages. Reviewed from ARC snagged at ALA Midwinter. 

Sunday, May 6, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay Week 2: Heartbreaking Reads

How is your #MiddleGradeMay going? I have been reading some really great books and today I have some suggestions for you if you're looking for something great to read. Our Booktuber host Akoss has set themes for each week of #MiddleGradeMay this year. This week's theme is Heartbreaking Books and I've got booktalks of three of my favorites in this video:



Books mentioned in this video:

A Summer to Die by Lois Lowry (Laurel Leaf, 1977) - the first book that ever made me cry. I read it for the first time in fifth grade.

The Honest Truth by Dan Gemeinhart (Scholastic, 2015).

Towers Falling by Jewell Parker Rhodes (Little, Brown, 2016).

Drums, Girls, and Dangerous Pie by Jordan Sonnenblick (Scholastic, 2004). (There is also a sequel, which I forgot to mention but which is also awesome: After Ever After.)

I hope you'll join us in reading and celebrating middle grade books this month! What are YOUR favorite heartbreaking middle grade reads?

Friday, May 4, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: The Serpent's Secret

Oh, you Percy Jackson fans are so lucky. 2018 is your year. Because 2018 is the year that The Serpent's Secret (Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond #1) by Sayantani DasGupta came out, opening a brilliant new mythology series.

When Kiranmala's parents disappear on the morning of the 12th birthday (which also happens to be Halloween), the New Jersey tween doesn't think too much of it. Until a giant rakkhosh demon shows up at her house, thirsty for blood, and two handsome Indian princes arrive, announcing that they're here to save her. Kiran doesn't need saving - she handles the demon pretty well on her own, though it's not pretty - but she does need answers. What has happened to her parents? And how can she save them?

Kiran discovers that there is truth behind the magical stories her parents used to tell her. She is an Indian princess, she's been living under a magical spell that broke on her 12th birthday, and she'll have to journey through other dimensions, meeting all kinds of fabulous and horrifying creatures to try to get her parents back.

This series opener is a great readalike for Percy Jackson because it mixes action-packed adventure with a strong dose of humor. Although there are lots of fantasy-adventure-mythology series that have come out since Percy Jackson became so popular, this one stands out because I think the tone is very similar. Kiran is a smart, strong heroine who is up to the task of saving the world and young readers who enjoy fantasy adventure will clamor for the next books in the series.

I listened to the audiobook, which is read by the author. She reads with a ton of energy and singsong voices for the monsters that make the most out of the punny and slapstick humor. If sometimes her voice is a bit unpolished, it's made up for by the fact that I know she's pronouncing everything write and that she's an #ownvoices narrator telling her story. And for an author narrating, it's really very decent.

Readalikes:

Of course, hand this book to fans of Rick Riordan's many mythology series (Percy Jackson, Magnus Chase, etc.).

And you'll also want to hand it to fans of Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi (Disney-Hyperion, 2018), which also came out this year. (See? I told you Percy Jackson fans are hitting the jackpot this year!)

Readers interested in Indian mythology will also want to check out The Savage Fortress by Sarwat Chadda (Scholastic, 2013), although be warned that the only books one and two of the Ash Mistry series were published in the US.

The Serpent's Secret by Sayantani DasGupta. Grades 4-8. Scholastic, 2018. 368 pages. Audiobook from Scholastic Audio. 8 hrs. 14 minutes. Read by Sayantani DasGupta. Review copy provided by my local library. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

#MiddleGradeMay: Front Desk

Immigrant experiences. They're being talked about a lot nowadays with everything in the news and our current political climate. It's important to give kids books that will show them different ways of life and how life can be for immigrants to this country. It's also important to give kids engaging stories with plenty of humor about characters they will care about and root for. Luckily, young readers will find both in Front Desk by Kelly Yang (Scholastic, May 2018).

Mia's a girl with a lot of secrets. When she starts fifth grade at a new school, there's a lot that she doesn't want her classmates to know. She lives in a motel instead of a house. She works at the motel, along with her parents. And she dreams of being a writer, even though she doesn't completely have English grammar mastered yet. (And even though her mom keeps telling her to concentrate on math because she'll never be as good at English as the white kids.)

Mia's family lives and works at the Calivista Motel, one of the best jobs her parents have had. A room is included, so they don't have to pay rent. And they're lead to believe that they will make a good salary on top of that. But the stingy motel owner Mr. Yao will do anything to gouge his employees. They're not allowed to swim in the pool (because then everyone will want to swim in the pool and do you know how much it costs to launder that many towels?!). They have to answer the door even in the middle of the night. And they can never leave the front desk unattended. Which means that while her parents clean the rooms, Mia helps out by checking in guests and taking care of their every need.

And she helps her parents sneak in fellow immigrants who need a place to crash. If Mr. Yao found out about that, you can bet they would lose their jobs in a split second. But these folks have nowhere else to turn and Mia's parents can't turn them away. 

Based on experiences from the author's own childhood, this is an amazing debut and a novel that everyone should check out. It has so much to say about immigration and racial issues in this country, and it approaches these issues in a really kid-friendly way. As Mia and her family are running the motel, they run into many immigrants who need a place to crash and they share their stories. Stories like employers taking their passports and IDs "for safekeeping" but really to hold immigrant workers hostage and immigrant children avoiding playing sports at school because their families don't have health insurance and the risk of injury is too great.

Above all, Mia is a big believer in dreams. She and her classmate Lupe talk about two roller coasters - one crappy roller coaster that poor people are stuck on, a self-perpetuating ride they can never get off because they can never get ahead. Just when all the bills are paid, someone needs to go to the hospital and there's no insurance and here you go around the track again. Then, there's the other roller coaster - the rich people roller coaster - much nicer with your ride paid for the people who came before you - your family who can send you to the best schools so you get the best jobs and the best salaries. Mia and Lupe have many conversations about how to get off the low roller coaster and join the higher roller coaster. It seems impossible, but they can dream about it. Maybe all it takes is one lucky break.

Hand this to kids who like realistic fiction with plucky heroines who are learning never to give up on their dreams.

Readalikes:

For kids who love Mia's indomitable spirit and can-do attitude, hand them Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage or All Four Stars by Tara Dairman.

For more stories about kids living in unusual places, try All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor or Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko.

For kids who are interested in reading more about kids living in poverty, hand them How to Steal a Dog by Barbara O'Connor or Crenshaw by Katherine Applegate.

For kids interested in immigrant experiences, hand them A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord or Return to Sender by Julia Alzarez.

Front Desk by Wendy Yang. Grades 5-8. Scholastic, May 2018. 286 pages. Reviewed from ARC provided by publisher.